Often, the most debilitating lower back pain, for both men and women, is the type that comes on suddenly, leaving you in significant pain with limited mobility. The severity of the pain and the suddenness can be alarming—but it’s very common. In the vast majority of cases, this back pain is not related to a serious disease or severe back problem, but could be due to something simple like muscle spasm or another musculoskeletal cause. When the exact origin of back pain isn’t clear, it’s referred to as nonspecific low back pain. This “mechanical” back pain is generally eased by lying down flat and made worse when you move your back, sneeze or cough.
The next most likely cause of sudden onset back pain is irritation to the nerve root emanating from the spinal cord, called sciatica. What makes sciatica pain distinct is that you generally also feel pain down one or both buttocks and thighs, even into the calf or foot. You may also feel pins and needles and/or numbness/weakness through the buttock, leg and on down along the entire path of the sciatic nerve. Nearly 90 percent of the time, this pain is caused by a slipped disc, also called a bulging or prolapsed disc pressing on the nearby nerve.
Disc injuries can come to light suddenly with minimal trauma--and as much as one-third of the population at any given time are walking around with disc bulges. These previously painless, silent back problems can suddenly begin to put pressure on the spinal cord nerves--when you do something as minor as bending to pick up a pen from the floor. Then the pain begins.
Less common conditions causing low back pain
Cauda equina syndrome is rare, but considered an emergency. Permanent nerve damage may result. Get medical attention immediately if you suspect cauda equina. This disorder causes pressure on nerves at the very bottom of the spinal cord with symptoms which may include:
- Lower back pain
- Bowel and bladder problems like inability to pass urine
- Numb sensation in the saddle region, below the tailbone
- Leg weakness
Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis causing spinal pain and joint inflammation in older people. Ankylosing spondylitis is a form of arthritis that may strike young adults, bringing on pain and lower back stiffness. Rheumatoid arthritis may affect the spine along with other joints throughout the body. Telltale signs of these arthritic conditions include:
- Pain that gets worse hours after going to bed or upon waking
- Stiffness, in addition to back pain, in the morning after rising, lasting over 30 minutes
- Pain eased (and not made worse) by activity
Rare bone disorders, tumors and infection cause less than 1 percent of sudden onset low back pain. Symptoms and signs may include:
- Onset of non-injury-related back pain in someone over 50 or under 20 years old
- History of cancer of any part of the body
- Depressed immune system
- Unexplained weight loss
Abdominal aortic aneurysm (enlargement of the abdominal artery) occurs mostly in males over 60 who smoke, have high blood pressure or high cholesterol. Symptoms include:
- Pulsating feeling near the navel
- Constant pain in the abdomen/side of abdomen
- Back pain
The best way to distinguish between back pain’s many causes is to see your back specialist or health care professional. Seek natural, non-invasive treatment whenever possible, such as proven-effective Functional Disc Rehydration. This innovative treatment was developed at the Illinois Back Institute. It is offered along with other personalized treatments to help patients achieve a pain-free life. Contact us for a free consultation with a back specialist.