Back pain is one of the most common health problems in the United States, yet its cause is generally unidentified. It is estimated that 50 to 80 percent of adults have had back pain at some time and that 10 percent of all Americans have back pain in a given year. Back pain can occur at any age in both men and women. However, it may occur slightly more often in women beginning at middle age, probably due to osteoporosis.
In addition to strengthening the core muscles, it's also important to address any mobility problems, says Jacque Crockford, M.S., C.S.C.S., exercise physiology content manager at American Council on Exercise, which can sometimes be what's causing pain. If specific movements like twisting or bending or extending your spine feel uncomfortable, there may be mobility (flexibility) issues at play. Doing some gentle stretching (like these yoga poses) might help. (If it gets worse with those stretches, stop and see a doctor.)
Appendicitis. This condition occurs when the appendix, located in the lower right hand side of the abdomen, becomes inflammation and/or ruptures. It may cause sharp, intense lower right back pain and/or pain on the lower right side of the abdomen. Symptoms vary and may include nausea, vomiting, or fever. Symptoms may occur suddenly or develop gradually.
If you’re able to walk away from a rear end crash and feel OK, you may decide not to get checked out by a doctor. However, whiplash—a violent backward-and-forward jerk of the head—can create “tears and inflammation of the muscles and ligaments in the neck and upper back,” explains Dr. Chang. See your doctor if you suspect whiplash, especially if you have other symptoms like fatigue, dizziness, and pain in your neck. Here are some exercises you can do that help ease back pain.
A herniated disc. This occurs when one of the small, spongy discs that cushion your spine bulges or breaks open and presses on the nerves in the spine. A herniated disc may be caused by normal wear and tear of the disc as you age. Or it may be brought on by activities that you do over and over again that cause a lot of vibration or motion (such as using a jackhammer) or by a sudden heavy strain or increased force to your back. In most cases, a herniated disc occurs in the lower back or neck. It can occur in the upper or middle back, but this is rare. See a picture of a herniated disc.
Spinal stenosis. The spinal cord runs through an opening in the bones called the spinal canal. Spinal stenosis occurs when that opening narrows. In some cases, bone, ligament, and disc tissue grows into the spinal canal and presses on the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord. The tissue can also squeeze and irritate or injure the spinal cord itself. In most cases, spinal stenosis occurs in the lower back and neck. It can occur in your upper or middle back, but this is rare.
Osteoarthritis. This condition results from wear and tear of the disc and facet joints. It causes pain, inflammation, instability, and stenosis to a variable degree, and can occur at a single level or multiple levels of the lower spine. Spinal osteoarthritis is associated with aging and is slowly progressive. It is also referred to as spondylosis or degenerative joint disease.
Gynecological Disorders. Fibroids and endometriosis, two common conditions in women, can cause lower left back pain. Pain from endometriosis is usually sporadic, sharp and stabbing, and is caused by excess uterine tissue growing outside the uterus. Other symptoms many include abdominal pain, fatigue, and severe pain with menstruation. Fibroids—typically benign masses growing in the uterus—can cause lower left back pain, as well as abnormal menstruation, frequent urination, and pain with intercourse.
The bony lumbar spine is designed so that vertebrae "stacked" together can provide a movable support structure while also protecting the spinal cord from injury. The spinal cord is composed of nervous tissue that extends down the spinal column from the brain. Each vertebra has a spinous process, a bony prominence behind the spinal cord, which shields the cord's nervous tissue from impact trauma. Vertebrae also have a strong bony "body" (vertebral body) in front of the spinal cord to provide a platform suitable for weight bearing of all tissues above the buttocks. The lumbar vertebrae stack immediately atop the sacrum bone that is situated in between the buttocks. On each side, the sacrum meets the iliac bone of the pelvis to form the sacroiliac joints of the buttocks.
Diverticulitis can also cause abdominal or lower left back pain. Small pouches can develop along the walls of the colon as you age, specifically on the left side of the abdomen. Diverticulitis results when bacteria accumulate in the pouches to the point where an infection forms. Other symptoms of diverticulitis include constipation, diarrhea, nausea, and fever.
A bowel obstruction occurs when the intestines are wholly or partially blocked. Therefore the process of digestion cannot proceed to completion. Bowel obstruction stems from many factors. The most common causes are incarceration (strangulation), hernia, constipation or bowel tissue, which is the result of previous infection or surgery in the abdominal cavity. However, the passage of food through the intestine can also interfere with neoplasms such as colon cancer or carcinoid. Sometimes part of a healthy intestine can twist or skew (this is called Volvulus). In rare cases, the cause of bowel obstruction is a partial or complete blockage due to non-digestible items, for example, coins or keys, which the patient has accidentally swallowed.
Back pain can occur anywhere along the spine, but the most common site is the lower back or lumbar region. The lower part of the back bears the weight of the upper body as well as any weight you’re carrying. It also twists and bends more than the upper back. Backache is second only to headaches as the most common site of pain. Four out of five adults will experience at least one bout of back pain in their life. The most common causes of back pain include injuries, herniated discs, and osteoarthritis. Treatment options include home treatment with over-the-counter-medication, prescription medication, physiotherapy and other non-surgical options and surgery.
Spondylolysis refers to a stress fracture in one of the vertebrae of the spine. This condition is most common in children and adolescent who play sports, such as gymnastics or football, that place repeated stress on the lower back. Spondylolysis can also occur as a result of trauma to the spine or from the degenerative changes of aging, which cause loss of the normal stabilizing structures of the spinal column.