Lower back pain is one of the most widespread pain conditions in the world. Half of all working United States adults are affected by back pain each year, and back pain is also the second leading reason for visits to the doctor. One reason this condition is so widespread is the variety of possible risk factors and lower back pain causes. People often experience lower back pain in very different ways and areas in their back. If you’re suffering from lower back pain, read on to learn more about treating your specific type of pain.
What lower back pain causes affect you?
Sometimes lower back pain causes are from serious underlying conditions, such as cancer or infection. However, the vast majority of people with lower back pain experience it because of musculoskeletal issues. Here are some of the most common (and a few less common) causes and risk factors for lower back pain. After discussing some of these more common lower back pain causes, we’ll look at some of the places where it shows up in the body.
Your lifestyle won’t necessarily cause back pain, but it can increase your risk or contribute to existing back pain. Specifically, smoking, obesity, alcohol abuse, or having poor posture can increase your risk of back pain. All of these can be changed, though, by utilizing reputable information from online resources and a little support from your pain doctor, friends, and family.
2. Degeneration, or wear-and-tear
The spine does a lot of work for the body. Over time, it can get a little worn down. This is the case in people with degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, or spinal stenosis. A healthy lifestyle can help prevent or reduce painful degeneration, as well as help control pain from degeneration that has already occurred. However, it is worth noting that some medical conditions or injuries can cause the same types of degeneration, trauma, and pain as aging, so this type of back pain can afflict anyone, of any age.
3. Performing manual tasks while fatigued, distracted, or in an awkward position
This seems like common sense, but performing physical activities while fatigued, distracted, or in an awkward position can seriously increase your risk of experiencing back pain. The good news is that these are modifiable, meaning you can change the way you do things to lessen your risk of pain.
4. Mood disorders
Both anxiety and depression are known to be linked to lower back pain. Depression, especially, is closely related with chronic pain. Chronic pain, including chronic lower back pain, can eventually lead to depression. Additionally, depression can worsen existing pain or increase the risk of new pain.
5. Injuries, including sports injuries
When the structures of the spine are damaged, it can result in serious pain. The damage can be the result of trauma, aging, or even surgery. Disc herniation, compression fractures, and spondylolisthesis are all types of injuries or trauma that can cause lower back pain.
6. Nerve pain, or sciatica
“Nerve root pain means that a nerve coming out from the spinal cord (the root of the nerve) is irritated or pressed on. (Many people call this a trapped nerve.) You feel pain along the course of the nerve. Therefore, you typically feel pain down a leg, sometimes as far as to the calf or foot. The pain in the leg or foot is often worse than the pain in the back. The irritation or pressure on the nerve may also cause pins and needles, numbness or weakness in part of a buttock, leg or foot.”
Infection and cancer can both cause lower back pain. It’s quite rare that these illnesses first manifest as back pain, but it is possible. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of infection or cancer along with new or changing back pain, speak to your back pain doctor as soon as possible.
Signs that infection or cancer might be causing your lower back pain include:
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Painful urination
- Unintentional weight loss
- Fevers and chills
- Intolerance of light
- Loss of feeling in the extremities
- Loss of balance
Genetic conditions that cause spinal deformities have a very low prevalence, meaning they’re not very common. Conditions that affect the spine and can cause back pain include kyphosis, which is a sideways curvature of the spine, and scoliosis, which is an exaggerated forward rounding of the spine.
To learn even more about the science of back pain, check out our video below.
Where do you feel your lower back pain?
You may have been able to identify the causes of your lower back pain in the previous list. However, there are some site-specific lower back pain causes that are also relevant.
9. Lower left back pain
Do you suffer from pain in the lower left back? If so, you may want to talk to a doctor. Left lower back pain may signal other issues in the abdominal organs and could signal infections. Possible complications related to lower left back pain include:
- Kidney stones
- Kidney infection
- Urinary tract infections
- Reproductive organ infections in women
If you’re experiencing lower left back pain that had a sudden or severe onset, along with a fever, talk to a doctor immediately.
10. Lower right back pain
More serious lower back pain causes will be felt in the lower left back. Lower right back pain, on the other hand, typically doesn’t signal larger medical issues. To tell the difference, MedicineNet advises:
“Kidney pain and back pain can be difficult to distinguish, but kidney pain is usually deeper and higher in the and back located under the ribs while the muscle pain with common back injury tends to be lower in the back.”
If you’re suffering from pain in the lower right back, consider if you’ve made any movements lately that could have caused a pulled or strained muscle. These may have occurred at work or while playing sports. If you can pinpoint an exact injury and the pain is mild, try our tips below for treating acute injuries. If the pain is severe or lasts more than three months, talk to a back pain doctor for more help.
11. Lower back muscle pain
As noted, pain that feels deep within the body can be a sign of medical issues like kidney infections or appendicitis. On the other hand, lower back muscle pain is pain that is chiefly felt in the muscles themselves. If your lower back muscle pain is caused by a sports injury, try the RICE method. Rest, ice the area, compress, and elevate. MedlinePlus offers more tips on how to treat acute cases of lower back pain felt in the muscles.
12. Lower back and hip pain
Lower back and hip pain can be difficult to differentiate sometimes, and they often occur together.
As Cleveland Clinic explains, lower back pain causes related to the hip include:
- Osteoarthritis in the hip joint
- Disc herniation
The majority of these issues are related to degenerative conditions that occur due to age. However, your pain doctor can help you find therapy options or interventional treatments to help with this type of pain.
13. Lower back and abdominal pain
If you’re suffering from lower back and abdominal pain, first rule out any larger medical emergencies. Pinpoint your pain to make sure it’s not lower left back pain that could be a sign of kidney problems. Or, EMedicineHealth.Com also notes that lower back and abdominal pain might also be connected to appendicitis or other medical issues. For any severe or sudden lower back and abdominal pain cases, talk to your doctor immediately.
Lower back and abdominal pain could also be related to premenstrual syndrome or other period complications. HealthLine discusses some more of the symptoms that can be related to lower back pain and periods.
However, if you’re suffering from a milder case, there may be another reason for your pain. As Reader’s Digest points out, sometimes lower back and abdominal pain can be caused by issues with your diet. As they note:
“A 2014 study in the Asian Spine Journal found that about 31 percent of women and 25 percent of men who suffered from back pain also had gastrointestinal complaints, such as abdominal pain or food intolerance. The link between nutrition and back pain is all about inflammation; foods high in fat and sugar trigger inflammation throughout the body, including the lower back.”
Suffering from mild to moderate lower back and abdominal pain that isn’t related to menstruation or a medical issue? Might be time to check your diet.
How does your lower back pain feel?
Besides lower back pain causes due to risk factors or the location of the pain, there are also some indicators in terms of severity that can help you figure out what type of pain you’re experiencing.
14. Chronic lower back pain
Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for more than three months, or longer than typical healing should have taken. This type of pain is often caused by lifestyle factors, including posture, activity levels, and stress. It can also be due to specific pain conditions, like a disc herniation or sciatica.
If you’ve suffered with pain for more than three months, it’s important to get treatment. Many people with back pain can find relief, but the longer you live with pain, the more your muscles may compensate and cause additional areas of pain.
15. Sharp lower back pain
Sharp lower back pain, as discussed earlier, is often related to a sports injury or other accident. It’s always best to see a doctor if you experience sharp lower back pain, as it could also be an indicator of another more serious condition. Likewise, if it is due to an injury, a doctor can help you find the best therapies so the pain doesn’t become chronic. In these cases, simple at-home treatments may be enough to help relieve your pain.
16. Constant lower back pain
Constant lower back pain, often related to chronic lower back pain, isn’t normal. If you’re suffering from constant lower back pain, it could be due to a herniated disc, another injury or damage, or as part of a larger medical condition, like fibromyalgia.
17. Sudden lower back pain
Sudden lower back pain is one of those lower back pain causes that could be related to a simple injury or accident, or point to a more serious condition.
As Spine-Health.com explains, if you experience any of the following symptoms, talk to a doctor immediately.
- Progressive leg weakness and/or loss of bowel or bladder control
- Unexplained weight loss accompanied by pain and neurological impairment
- Acute, severe stomach pain along with low back pain such that the patient cannot stand straight
- Fever with increased pain which does not respond to common fever reducers
What conditions are associated with lower back pain?
Finally, there are some common conditions that are often associated with lower back pain.
18. Lower back pain during pregnancy
Lower back pain during pregnancy is primarily caused by changes in your weight and center of gravity, as well as hormonal changes. As BabyCenter.com explains:
“You’re not alone. More than two-thirds of pregnant women experience low back pain. Most often the pain appears in the later months or becomes worse as pregnancy progresses. It may persist after the baby arrives, but postpartum back pain usually resolves in a few months.”
19. Constipation and lower back pain
Constipation and lower back pain is more common than you might think. Some reasons for this may include:
- The lower back pain and related muscle or disc damage are blocking your bowel movements
- The pain medications you’re taking can often cause constipation
- Your constipation, and time and pressure in the area, is causing pain in the spine
If you’re suffering from constipation and lower back pain, there are multiple ways to find relief. Global Healing Center suggests seven simple lifestyle remedies for reducing constipation. Your doctor can also help by modifying medications, diagnosing your lower back pain causes, or help remove the impaction in your bowels.
20. Lower back pain and nausea
Lower back pain and nausea occurring together can be caused by a number of conditions, including:
- Gallstones or kidney stones
- More serious conditions like appendicitis, pancreatitis, or osteomyelitis
If you’ve ruled out menstrual or pregnancy-related causes of lower back pain and nausea, talk to a doctor to rule out other conditions.
Lower back pain tests
To learn more about what could be causing your lower back pain, check out these interactive quizzes from:
Finding lower back pain relief
With so many potential lower back pain causes, trying to treat that pain might seem like a big task – but it doesn’t have to be. If you’re suffering from mild cases of lower back pain, start out with small changes, like exercising each day, watching your posture a little more closely, or making sure you get a good night’s sleep. Add other small lifestyle changes slowly enough that you’re able to maintain the changes, and over time your lower back pain might begin to lessen or even disappear.
If your pain is severe, or if lifestyle changes just aren’t cutting it, speak to your pain doctor. He or she might be able to suggest physical therapists, medications, or alternative therapies that could ease your discomfort. Also, if you think you might have a mood disorder like depression, or if you’re experiencing any symptoms that could signal an infection, tell your pain doctor as soon as possible.
Over 80% of people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lives, either due to injury or other associated medical condition. Treatments vary depending on the severity of the pain and its location, but there are some common treatments that doctors utilize for nearly every type of back pain. Doctors focus on treating pain, reducing inflammation, correcting the condition if needed, and preventing further injury.
Treating acute and mild cases of lower back pain
The first treatment is limited bed rest (one to two days) and an application of cold compresses, if your back pain was due to an injury. There is no definitive research that shows that compresses help “fix” lower back pain, but they can provide comfort and reduce inflammation. Compresses can be applied for 20 minutes at a time and can be alternated if that provides relief. Additionally, patients may take over-the-counter analgesics or prescription medicines to reduce inflammation.
Some studies show that bed rest alone can actually make pain worse, so many doctors suggest that patients begin to resume normal activity after a couple days. At night, patients should sleep on a supportive mattress.
Treating chronic or severe lower back pain causes
If necessary, the second part of treatment involves correcting whatever injury or condition caused the pain, and this is where treatments can vary widely.
Some doctors suggest chiropractic care to return the spine to its proper alignment. Others use traction, a series of weights, to gently realign the spine (not recommended for acute low back pain). Others may suggest physical therapy for lower back pain. Doctors may progress to injections of various types, including nerve blocks or epidural steroid injections for severe pain or ultrasound to warm and relax muscles surrounding the spine.
They may also use transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) that sends electrical pulses to block nerve signals to the brain. More serious conditions may involve surgery from the minimally invasive (inserting a thin needle with an epoxy-like glue into the fissures in the vertebrae) to rhizotomy or cordotomy (cutting or altering the nerve root near the spinal cord completely).
Preventing lower back pain
The final step of common treatment for back pain is prevention.
Exercise, including low-impact aerobic exercise, is crucial to rebuild strength in your core and back to support the spine. Doctors will frequently recommend physical therapy to teach a patient the correct way to exercise, followed by regular trips to the gym, pool, or yoga mat. Some doctors may also recommend dietary changes that eliminate foods that cause inflammation (dairy and gluten).
Every patient is different, and doctors will follow the best course of treatment as they see fit for each condition. If you suffer from pain, what course of treatment did you follow? If you need more specialized help for your lower back pain, reach out to a pain doctor today.