Back pain can hurt more than your back. The spinal column, though protected with muscle, tendons and ligament, can cause life-long problems if left untreated. The major causes of back pain, explained here, can affect other parts of your body. Learn the symptoms and causes of back pain for a better understanding of the risk to your health.
Your spinal column begins at the base of your neck. It consists of 12 vertebrae that run the length of your back to the pelvic region. Nerves run through the spinal column to relay messages from your brain to the rest of your body. Discs separate each vertebra and cushion them.
Discs have a fibrous outer cover with a gelatin-like fluid inside. When you lift a load too heavy for you, lift something improperly or fall hard, a disc may become herniated. This means the outer cover tears, allowing the fluid inside to leak out into the spinal column. The deflating disc slips and part of it begins poking through the vertebrae it cushions.
This causes vertebrae to rub together and, sometimes, exposed nerve endings become coated with the disc’s fluid. These exposed nerves rub against the unprotected vertebrae causing pain.
Pain at the injured area and shooting pain can result from a herniated disc. The shooting pains down your legs or arms come because of the nerves pinched by vertebrae or rubbing.
Spinal stenosis, one of the major causes of back pain in people 50 and older, is a narrowing of the spinal canal. This condition progresses over time as the spinal canal narrows. The causes of this narrowing of the spinal canal include:
- Bone spurs
- Thickening ligaments
- Enlarged joint cartilage due to arthritis
Osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, weakens the cartilage, discs and spinal joints. This continued degeneration causes the vertebrae to rub together and causes pain that grows worse over time.
A herniated lumbar disc commonly affects the sciatic nerve by pinching it or if vertebrae rub against it. The sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the human body, lies in the lower, or lumbar, region of your back below the last spinal vertebrae and pelvic area.
Sciatica, though not a condition unto itself, controls functions in both legs. Symptoms of sciatica nerve pain include:
- Tingling in one leg
- Shooting pain in one leg
- Shooting pain in one buttock
- Pain down one leg into the foot
- Pain in one knee
- Numbness in one buttock, leg or foot
The nerve can become pinched or rub against bone in patients with spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis or pelvic fracture/injury.
The number one major cause of back pain, pulled muscles, usually heal in a few days with the use of heat and cold packs. Over-the-counter pain medications can ease the pain of muscle pulls as they heal.
If a muscle pull continues hurting after a few days, make an appointment with a doctor.
Muscle pulls occur during strenuous activities, exercising, lifting improperly, and any activity involving twisting of the back.
These major causes of back pain can change your life if you choose not to see a doctor. Experiencing numbness to your extremities or pains in your arms, legs or chest need professional care immediately.