If you have ever wondered, “Why does my back hurt?” you are not alone. Approximately 83 million workdays are missed per year because of back pain, making it the number one cause of work absences. Most gravely, lower back pain is the leading cause of global disability.
Understanding where back injuries come from is the first step in tackling the irritating symptoms that accompany them. We will go over the most common causes of back pain and the steps you can take to prevent or alleviate symptoms.
Strains and Sprains
Muscle strains and ligament sprains are the most common causes of back pain. Strains and sprains frequently occur in the lumbar spine or lower back as the surrounding muscles support most of our body weight and any weight we lift.
Overly stretched or torn muscles cause a strain, while a torn ligament (the tissue that connects bones) causes a sprain. Strains and sprains are common amongst athletes and employees that perform strenuous labor. Symptoms often include a combination of the following:
- Restricted range of motion
- Muscle cramps or spasms
- Increased pain with movement
- Inflammation and tenderness
Most strains and sprains can be diagnosed and treated at home. However, if at-home remedies do not resolve symptoms within six weeks, seek the advice of a medical professional.
Imaging diagnostics may expose an injury that requires professional physical therapy or prescription medicines and supportive braces like the Brace Align VerterbrAlign. Still, there is no need to worry. A medical intervention followed by preventative measures often solves strains and sprains for good.
Prevention and Treatment
There are multiple precautions you can take to prevent recurring injury. Consider the following:
- Core strengthening will add support to your back muscles.
- Daily low-impact exercises like walking promote blood circulation for healing and muscle strengthening.
- Practice safe lifting by bending at the knees instead of the back.
- Maintain proper posture to avoid placing excess body weight on your lumbar spine.
If a strain or sprain has currently got you down, and you are still wondering how to relieve lower back pain, try some of the following at-home remedies.
- Over the counter anti-inflammatory and pain-relief medication if approved by your doctor
- Stretches recommended by a medical professional
- Ice to reduce irritating inflammation
- Heat therapy and short intervals of walking to promote circulation and ease of movement
Spinal Disc Injuries
Spinal discs are rubber-like truncated cylinders that sit between each vertebra and protect the spine by absorbing movement. Discs have a solid yet flexible exterior with a jellylike interior. Repetitive heavy lifting, age, improper posture, and other poor practices can create small tears in the protective outing, causing the interior substance to leak out.
This injury is known as a herniated disc. Most of the time, herniated discs cause little to no symptoms. On the contrary, if the herniated disc touches a nerve, it can cause extreme discomfort and usually occurs in the neck or lower back. Common symptoms include:
- Sharp or burning pain in an arm or leg
- Numbness in a hand, foot, arm, or leg
- Muscle weakness
As previously mentioned, some people are not even aware that they have a herniated disc unless it places pressure on a nearby nerve. However, if you experience any of the above symptoms, a doctor can assess the injury and provide a treatment plan.
Your doctor will likely be able to diagnose you with a physical exam. In some cases, they will recruit the help of an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan to locate the affected nerve.
Prevention and Treatment
Avoiding unsafe lifting, bad posture, and remaining active are great ways to avoid back injuries in general. With that said, sometimes herniated discs are impossible to prevent as they can occur with age or even be genetic. Luckily, herniated discs typically reside with noninvasive treatment such as:
- Over the counter anti-inflammatory medications
- Prescribed pain medications and muscle relaxers
- Physical therapy
If the pain persists, your doctor may prescribe steroid injections. In extreme cases, surgery is the only way to remove the herniated disc.
Osteoporosis is a disease that depletes bone mineral density and mass, changing bone structure and putting those who suffer at a higher risk of fractures. Osteoporosis can attack the entire body but is most common in the hips, spine, and wrists.
The disease is difficult to identify and often remains undiagnosed until the first fracture. However, possible symptoms in the spine may include intense back pain, height loss, and hunched posture. Some populations are more at risk than others, including:
- Older women, especially those who are postmenopause
- Thinner men and women
- White and Asian women
- Those with hormonal or gastrointestinal diseases, specific types of cancers, HIV/AIDS, arthritis, and anorexia nervosa
While the initial sign of osteoporosis is typically a broken bone, doctors screen at-risk women, including those older than 65. However, this is the only population evaluated.
If you are worried about developing the disease, talk to your doctor. They will likely perform a physical exam that evaluates height, weight, muscle strength, posture, and balance. They may also perform a bone mineral density test.
Prevention and Treatment
If you are at risk for developing the disease, there are a few measures you can take to improve your spine's strength. See a list below.
- Eat a well-balanced diet filled with calcium and vitamin D.
- Consume the correct amount of calories per day as determined by your doctor.
- Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol
- Exercise regularly and perform back strengthening activities recommended by your doctor.
If you are currently living with the back pain that accompanies osteoporosis, don’t stress too much. A medical professional can help you manage the pain. Your doctor will likely prescribe medication and create an individualized plan to mitigate discomfort and prevent broken bones.
Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis and affects over 3.25 million Americans. The degenerative disease occurs with age and breaks down protective cartilage, sometimes leading to painful bone-on-bone contact. As a result, surrounding tissues break down and alter the bone structure.
The condition often attacks the hands, knees, hips, and spine. The first sign of spinal osteoarthritis is minor lower back pain that worsens over time. Those affected may experience:
- Stiffness and aches after periods of inactivity
- Tenderness with touch
- Limited range of motion
- A grinding, popping, or cracking feel during movement
- Inflammation and redness
If you began by wondering how to fix lower back pain but are now experiencing any combination of the above symptoms, schedule an appointment with a medical professional.
Doctors diagnose osteoarthritis through a symptom review, physical exam, labs that examine blood and joint fluid, and imaging diagnostics. Some patients are referred to a rheumatologist or arthritis specialist to assist with the diagnosis and treatment plan.
Prevention and Treatment
Osteoarthritis can be difficult to prevent as bone deformities, metabolic diseases, and genetics predispose many people to the condition. Still, there are a few risk factors you should beware of, including:
- Joint injuries
- Placing repetitive stress on the joints from sports or labor
While reversing osteoarthritis is impossible, the symptoms are easy to manage with the help of a doctor. Most medical professionals treat the condition with anti-inflammatory and pain medication in addition to physical and occupational therapy. More severe cases require cortisol injections and surgery.
Spinal stenosis is typically the result of another condition, such as a herniated disc, osteoarthritis, scoliosis, or trauma to the spine. Spinal stenosis occurs when the spinal canal narrows and places pressure on nerves in the spinal cord.
Spinal canal narrowing is most common in the neck and lower back. Many people are unaware of their spinal stenosis until imaging diagnostics expose it. Others experience pain that gradually gets worse until treated. Such symptoms include:
- Numbness in the hand, arm, foot, or leg
- Weakness in the hand, arm, foot, or leg
- Neck or back pain
- Pain or cramping when walking
If you report any of the above symptoms or suffer from an underlying condition, your doctor will likely conduct a physical examination. They will also order an x-ray, MRI, or CT scan. Not only will these imaging diagnostics show a narrowing of the spinal canal, but they will also expose a potential underlying cause.
Prevention and Treatment
Because spinal stenosis is usually the result of an unrelated injury or condition, preventative measure recommendations can vary. However, there are general practices you should implement to avert and alleviate back pain, like staying active, maintaining a healthy diet, avoiding unsafe lifting, and practicing good posture.
If you are diagnosed with spinal stenosis, your doctor will likely recommend some at-home remedies. If the pain is extreme, they may prescribe anti-inflammatory and pain medications, refer you to physical therapy, recommend steroid injections, or perform surgery.
Before you go, there are a few things you should keep in mind. There are two types of back pain: acute and chronic. Recognizing which type you have will aid you in knowing when to seek medical attention.
Acute back pain lasts from a few days to six weeks and usually resolves with at-home remedies. Chronic back pain lasts upwards of 12 weeks and requires the assistance of a doctor to manage. Certain conditions, such as osteoporosis or osteoarthritis, are more likely to inflict chronic pain.There is also upper, middle, and lower back pain. While each type causes varying symptoms, doctors recommend similar treatments. Lower back pain is by far the most common. At some point or another, you’ve said or heard someone else say, “Why does my lower back hurt?” Because it is so common, the medical field has vast advice on preventing it.