Back pain can be experienced in several different ways, but one of the most debilitating types of back pain is the kind that occurs suddenly. Not only is it extremely painful but it can also severely restrict your ability to move and bend as you normally would. For many people the most alarming part is that the pain can happen without any warning and be so severe. But this is actually very common!
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Most of the time, the cause of this sudden onset lower back pain is not related to anything serious. But there are a very few amount of cases that are rare and can be dangerous! Below are the causes of sudden onset lower back pain and their symptoms, beginning with the most common:
- Mechanical Back Pain
Most cases of sudden lower back pain are called "mechanical," meaning it is most likely related to a musculoskeletal cause, such as a muscle spasm. This type of pain is nonspecific, meaning the exact origin of the pain is not clear. Mechanical pain is usually not severe or very serious, and most of the time it can be relieved with rest, lying down, and just taking it easy.
Sciatica is the second most common reason for sudden onset lower back pain. The sciatic nerve runs from the lower spine down the legs into the foot, and sciatica occurs when this nerve gets irritated or pinched as it exits the spine. Sciatica is different from other types of pain because not only can it cause pain in the lower back but it can also cause it at any point that the nerve travels. This includes the buttocks, thighs, knees, calves, and feet. Sciatica can also cause numbness, weakness, or a feeling of pins and needles in those areas as well.
- Minor Trauma
Injuries to the discs in the lower back can occur at any time as a result of minor trauma. At any given time, as much as one third of the people in United States have a bulging disc and don't know it because it's not causing any symptoms. But the most minor movement or action can change that in an instant. Something as simple as sneezing or bending over to pick something up can cause this previously silent problem to press against a nerve and cause sudden and extreme pain!
The following causes of sudden onset lower back pain are rare but can be very serious:
- Cauda Equina Syndrome
This condition is very rare and also dangerous enough to be considered an emergency if someone has it. It is a disorder that causes pressure on the nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord, whose symptoms include:
- Leg Weakness
- Numbness in the "saddle" region below the tailbone
- Bowel and bladder problems, including the inability to urinate
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms along with your sudden onset lower back pain, seek medical attention immediately as it can result in permanent nerve damage.
Arthritis is a disorder that causes inflammation and pain in the joints of the body. There are over 100 different types of arthritis, and the most common is Osteoarthritis, which is usually caused by age or trauma to a joint. Rheumatoid arthritis is another common type that can affect the spine and other joints in the body, and a common type that only affects the spine and back is Ankylosing Spondylitis. These all have symptoms that include pain that is reduced by activity, pain that gets worse after going to bed or when waking up in the morning, and stiffness after waking up that lasts over 30 minutes.
- Bone disorders, tumors, or infections
These conditions only cause less than 1% of all sudden onset lower back pain, but they are extremely serious. Some of the symptoms of these are:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Depressed immune system
- A history of cancer anywhere in the body
- The onset of non-injury related pain in someone over 50 or under 20 years of age
People experiencing these symptoms with their sudden onset lower back pain should see a doctor immediately.
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm
This condition is an enlargement of the abdominal artery that is mostly seen in men over 60 who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or who smoke. It is also extremely rare. The symptoms of an abdominal aortic aneurysm include back pain, a pulsating feeling near the navel, and constant pain in or on the side of the abdomen.
As with all back pain, the best way to determine the cause of your sudden onset lower back pain is to see a back specialist or health care professional.
At the Illinois Back Institute we strive to educate everyone as much as possible about their back pain and sciatica, because it is proven that the more people know about their problem the more likely they are to eliminate it!
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