What are the types of back pain?
back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability and a
leading contributor to missed work. Fortunately, most occurrences of low
back pain go away within a few days. Others take much longer to resolve
or lead to more serious conditions.
Acute or short-term low back pain generally lasts
from a few days to a few weeks. Most acute back pain is mechanical in
nature--the result of trauma to the lower back or a disorder such as
arthritis. Pain from trauma may be caused by a sports injury, work
around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car
accident or other stress on spinal bones and tissues. Symptoms may range
from muscle ache to shooting or stabbing pain, limited flexibility
and/or range of motion, or an inability to stand straight. Occasionally,
pain felt in one part of the body may “radiate” from a disorder or
injury elsewhere in the body. Some acute pain syndromes can become more
serious if left untreated.
Chronic back pain is measured by duration—-pain that
persists for more than 3 months is considered chronic. It is often
progressive and the cause can be difficult to determine.
What causes lower back pain?
As people age, bone strength and muscle elasticity and tone tend to
decrease. The intervertebral discs located in between the vertebrae
begin to lose fluid and flexibility, which decreases their ability to
cushion the vertebrae.
Pain can occur when, for example, someone lifts something too heavy
or overstretches, causing a sprain, strain, or spasm in one of the
muscles or ligaments in the back. If the spine becomes overly strained
or compressed, a disc may rupture or bulge outward. This rupture may put
pressure on one of the more than 50 nerves rooted to the spinal cord
that control body movements and transmit signals from the body to the
brain. When these nerve roots become compressed or irritated, back pain
Low back pain may reflect nerve or muscle irritation or bone lesions.
Most low back pain follows injury or trauma to the back, but pain may
also be caused by degenerative conditions such as arthritis or disc
disease, osteoporosis or other bone diseases, viral infections,
irritation to joints and discs, or congenital abnormalities in the
spine. Obesity, smoking, weight gain during pregnancy, stress, poor
physical condition, posture inappropriate for the activity being
performed, and poor sleeping position also may contribute to low back
pain. Additionally, scar tissue created when the injured back heals
itself does not have the strength or flexibility of normal tissue.
Buildup of scar tissue from repeated injuries eventually weakens the
back and can lead to more serious injury.
Occasionally, low back pain may indicate a more serious medical
problem. Pain accompanied by fever or loss of bowel or bladder control,
pain when coughing, and progressive weakness in the legs may indicate a
pinched nerve or other serious condition. People with diabetes may have
severe back pain or pain radiating down the leg related to neuropathy.
People with these symptoms should contact a doctor immediately to help
prevent permanent damage.
Who is most likely to develop low back pain?
Nearly everyone has low back pain sometime. Men and women are equally
affected. It occurs most often between ages 30 and 50, due in part to
the aging process but also as a result of sedentary life styles with too
little (sometimes punctuated by too much) exercise. The risk of
experiencing low back pain from disc disease or spinal degeneration
increases with age.
To avoid back strain, children carrying backpacks should bend both
knees when lifting heavy packs, visit their locker or desk between
classes to lighten loads or replace books, or purchase a backpack or
airline tote on wheels.
© 2010 Vivacare. Last updated April 5, 2011.
Reference: The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke