Common Causes of Lower Back Pain

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At some point in life, most people experience lower back pain. The intensity of this pain ranges from mild to severe and can be short-lived or long-lasting. Despite the cause of the pain, for 33% of back pain sufferers, this pain negatively affects daily life making what one would consider an easy task difficult to complete (e.g., dusting).

The CDC’s 2018 National Health Interview Survey found that 28% of men and 31% of women experienced back pain at some point within the three months leading up to completing the survey.

Symptoms of Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can occur in many forms and levels of severity. For one person the pain may start suddenly and for another the onset of pain may be slow. Lower back pain can be continuous or come and go.

Types of back pain:

  • Stabbing.
  • Sharp.
  • Achy.
  • Dull.
  • A cramp similar to a charley horse.

Most people’s back pain resolves within a few weeks’ time. The length of time an individual’s lower back pain continues helps determine whether it is acute, subacute or chronic. Most people with lower back pain find that lying down or sitting in a recliner helps ease their pain, despite the cause.

Length of Time Classifications for Back Pain

Acute Pain

Lasts less than six weeks and usually results from trauma, such as a car accident or a fall.

Subacute Pain

Lasts between 6 and 12 weeks.

Chronic Pain

Last longer than 12 weeks.

Understanding the Source of Your Lower Back Pain

The Spine

Understanding the structure of the spine and the way it moves may help people recognize which actions could lead to a back injury. The spine consists of muscles, ligaments, joints, intervertebral discs, vertebrae and nerves. Should any of these sustain damage or become misaligned back pain may result.

Muscle and Joint Pain

The most common reasons for back pain include pulled muscles, sprains and strains. There is a misconception that these injuries are the result of a single event. These injuries can also occur due to stress placed on the back while performing a repeated movement.

The Vertebrae

The vertebrae are the 33 small bones that make up the spine. These bones are stacked on top of each other. The size and shape of a vertebra depends on its location in the spine. Since the vertebrae located in the lumbar region are responsible for carrying around an individual’s body weight, these vertebrae are larger and broader than those located in the thoracic and cervical regions of the spine.

The Intervertebral Discs

In between each vertebra (except for C1 and C2) is an intervertebral disc. Each intervertebral disc consists of a gel-like fibrocartilage tissue that serves as a shock absorber for the vertebrae. This tissue holds the vertebrae together. In addition, these discs make it possible for the vertebrae to extend and flex.

Common Causes of Lower Back Pain


Specific Movements


Sometimes specific movements cause lower back pain (e.g., bending or lifting incorrectly). Bending forward to pick something up should be avoided altogether and replaced with squatting. Furthermore, it is vital that individuals use their legs when lifting as opposed to their back.

Natural Aging


Degenerative changes to the spine can make individuals susceptible to experiencing back pain, especially after overdoing it while participating in physical activities (e.g., doing yard work, playing softball or golfing). When this is the cause, the stiffness and soreness usually resolve within a few days.

Spinal Stenosis

If the space around the spinal cord becomes narrow, pressure may be put on the spinal nerves and the cord itself. The collapse of an intervertebral disc and the onset of osteoarthritis may cause this narrowing. In an attempt to provide support for the affected vertebra, the body creates more bone. As time passes, the bone may overgrow, creating a spur, which may lead to narrowing of the spinal canal. Additionally, osteoarthritis can cause thickening of the ligaments connected to the vertebrae, this, too, can cause narrowing of the spinal canal.

Disc Injury


If back pain remains after several days, there may be an injured disc, such as a disc tear, disc herniation, or slipped disc. Causes of a slipped disc include pulling, lifting, twisting, or bending. 



When there is a slipped disc in the lower back, pressure is frequently placed on the sciatic nerve. When this happens the pain begins in the lower back radiating down the hips, buttocks and the back of the leg to the foot. Sciatica usually affects one leg at a time.

Disc Degeneration


With time, intervertebral discs begin wearing away and shrinking. Sometimes the disc collapses all the way and the vertebrae begin rubbing against each other (i.e., osteoarthritis). The onset of stiffness and pain is likely.

Degenerative Spondylolisthesis


As time passes, aging and typical wear and tear on the joints make keeping everything in line more difficult. The vertebrae are unstable, so they can move around, sometimes one-vertebra slides over another. When there is too much slippage, pain may result as the vertebrae press on the spinal nerves.



An abnormal curvature of the spine that usually develops during the teenage years. Scoliosis also develops in people with arthritis. Scoliosis can cause pain in the back and, if pressure is placed on the nerves of the lower back, leg symptoms (e.g., sciatica).


Other Lower Back Pain Causes

Some causes of lower back pain can be serious. For example, individuals need to contact their physician if they have a history of cancer, arterial disease, vascular disease or pain that remains despite their position or activity level. Furthermore, regardless of symptoms or age, if the back pain persists longer than a few weeks, or is accompanied by chills, fever or unexpected weight loss, seeking medical care is vital.


An orthopedic specialist is an invaluable resource for back pain. An orthopedic surgeon offers precise expertise designed to increase your mobility, reduce your pain and get your life back on track.

Cameron Hospital’s Orthopedic Clinic is fully equipped to diagnose and treat your back pain. Our specialists are here to help you find the relief you need. Learn more about how we can do so by scheduling an appointment or contacting us today.



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