Common Causes of Low Back Pain

What is Causing Your Back to Hurt?

Bad posture for lifting something heavy
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If you have low back pain, then you understand how the pain can make many basic tasks difficult to perform. Simple things like sitting, bending, or walking can become almost impossible, and performing work and recreational activities may be limited.

Sometimes trauma such as a fall or automobile accident may cause your low back pain. But often your pain may appear out of nowhere. Your pain may strike when you first wake up in the morning, or it may suddenly start when rising from a chair.

Back pain can be confusing enough as it is. Sometimes it may be difficult deciphering if the pain is even coming from your back, and trying to figure out what causes it can be mind-boggling. And many experts recommend focusing on mechanical sources of your back pain rather than anatomical sources of your pain. Is it a herniated disc, bulging disc, or facet joint arthritis causing your problem? It can be hard to decide, so focusing on what you are doing and the positions you put your back in may be the best way to determine the cause of your back pain.

low back pain causes
Illustration by Alexandra Gordon, Verywell

Common Causes

Poor Sitting PostureThe correct position of your low back should have a slight forward curve called a lordosis. When you sit slouched, this lordosis straightens out-or even worse-reverses itself. This loss of the forward curve in your spine can cause increased pressure on the small shock absorbing discs in your back. This increased pressure can displace your discs and lead to low back pain. Your physical therapist can teach you the proper way to sit to decrease, eliminate, or prevent your back pain.

Frequent Forward Bending: If you spend a lot of time performing repetitive tasks that require forward bending, you may be placing increased pressure on your spine, and this may be a cause of your pain. Learning to bend properly at your knees to help keep pressure off of your spine can help you decrease your back pain.

Heavy Lifting:  Jobs that require heavy lifting can place incredible stress on your spine. This stress can lead to muscle strains, and it can also increase pressure in your intervertebral discs. This pressure can cause low back pain or sciatica. Learning to lift properly is essential to controlling or preventing your pain.

Trauma:  Sometimes trauma may cause your low back pain. There is no mystery here-a fall, a car accident, or trauma during athletics can all cause low back muscle strains. While physical therapy can help your back pain after trauma, it is always a good idea to check in with your doctor after a traumatic event to ensure that no major damage is causing your pain.

Degenerative Conditions: Sometimes, degenerative conditions that are the normal result of aging may cause your low back pain. Conditions like spinal stenosis, arthritis, or degenerative disc disease can all cause pain. Congenital conditions, like spondylolisthesis or scoliosis, can also cause your back pain. For most degenerative back problems, movement and exercise have been proven to be effective in treating these conditions. A visit to your physical therapist can help you determine the correct progression of back exercises for your specific condition.

Non-mechanical Disease Processes: Sometimes, non-mechanical disease processes like cancer, kidney stones, or a tumor may cause low back pain. These symptoms are usually, but not always, accompanied by other symptoms like unexpected weight loss, fever, or malaise that indicate a non-mechanical cause of your pain. These diseases are rare, but they can happen, so if your back pain continues for more than a few weeks after physical therapy treatment begins, a visit to your doctor is certainly in order to rule out a sinister problem.

Treatment Options

If you develop a sudden onset of low back pain, a visit to your physical therapist can help you determine the correct things to do to manage your acute pain. Your physical therapist should be able to analyze your lifestyle, movements, and overall medical history to help determine the likely cause of your pain. By focusing on these mechanical causes of back pain, you can make a change that may give you relief.

By understanding the cause of your back pain, you can take steps start changing your lifting, posture, or bending habits that may be preventing your back from healing properly. You may also learn to stop doing things that may be preventing your back from feeling better.

Keep in mind if your back pain is not getting better a few weeks after initiating treatment or is accompanied by weakness in your legs, changes in your bowel or bladder habits, or unexplained weight loss, a visit to your doctor is necessary to get the proper treatment for your condition.

A Word From Verywell

If you have back pain, working with your physical therapist can be an important component of your recovery. Your PT can show you what exercises to do, and he or she can help you determine what may be causing your pain. By understanding the cause of your back pain, you can work to make lifestyle changes to make your pain go away.

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