Causes of Lower Back Pain

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There are many possible causes of lower back pain, with the majority being mechanical in nature. Lower back pain is often linked to spondylosis, the degeneration of the spine's intervertebral discs due to everyday wear and tear. Additionally, some health conditions have the potential to cause lower back pain.

Man lower back pain

The majority of acute lower back pain cases are linked to sprains or strains of the ligaments, tendons, or muscles, which support the lower back. This usually occurs when an individual moves in such a way as to overstretch the back or lifts something too heavy, leading to a tear in the connective tissue. An injury from playing sport, a car accident, or any other circumstance, can ultimately lead to compression of the spine, herniated discs and compression of the nerves.

Degeneration of the spine and intervertebral disc

As people age, it is normal for the spine's rubbery intervertebral discs to lose integrity through a process known as spondylosis. These discs are usually responsible for cushioning the spine's individual bones as they move on each other during bending and flexing. In elderly individuals, the intervertebral discs cannot provide this type of support to the lower back area, which can result in lower back pain.

When the intervertebral discs become weakened, any significant degree of compression can lead to a change in positioning, making them bulge outwards. This is known as herniation. Lower back pain can also result from this.

Spinal stenosis is another condition that causes back pain. It involves the narrowing of the spinal column in one area at least. This can lead to an increase in pressure on the surrounding nerves. Spondylolisthesis is another condition in which there is a spinal vertebra displacement due to it slipping out of place. This can also press against the nerves and cause lower back pain.

Disc problems spine


If a spinal nerve root is compressed, inflamed, or otherwise injured, the pressure on the nerve can lead to pain, numbness, or other sensations such as tingling in various areas of the body, depending on the nerve that was affected. Radiculopathy is the term for this condition, and it is commonly associated with herniated discs that damage a spinal nerve root.

Sciatica is a type of radiculopathy that involves compression of the sciatic nerve, the main nerve to the leg. This is responsible for transmitting sensation and motor activity to and from the buttocks and down the back of the legs. Sciatica can cause sharp, burning pain in the lower back, buttocks, and (usually) one leg. It can also lead to numbness and weakness of the affected muscles in severe cases.

sciatica sciatic nerve

Underlying conditions

For some patients, lower back pain may present due to an underlying medical condition that should be addressed to manage the pain. Such conditions include:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Osteoporosis
  • Endometriosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Kidney stones
  • Tumors or cysts
  • Infection
  • Cancer

Risk factors

Although anyone can be affected by lower back pain, some risk factors increase the likelihood of developing the symptoms. These risk factors include:

  • Age: Most cases initially present between 30 and 50 years of age. The risk increases as people age due to loss of bone strength and muscle elasticity.
  • Fitness: People with low fitness levels are more likely to be affected due to weaker core and abdominal muscles.
  • Pregnancy: Pregnant women have a higher risk of lower back pain due to hormonal changes, which induce changes in the pelvic joints and increased weight.
  • Weight: Excessive weight increases the stress put on the spine and back muscles.
  • Family history: Individuals with a family history of related conditions such as spondylitis are more likely to be affected.
  • Occupation: People with manual labor jobs that involve heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling have a greater risk.
Chronic Low Back Pain : Understanding lower back structures and treatment approaches



Further Reading

Last Updated: Feb 16, 2021

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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  1. Jo Ann Samukawa Jo Ann Samukawa United States says:

    I just watched your video about the causes and treatments of chronic back pain, and I would like to say that it was a most excellent presentation, quite understandable and informative.  I have degenerative disc disease and radiculopathy, and have found the exercise and meditation/relaxation techniques to be most effective.  I have been able to avoid strong pain medications by applying such techniques!!  GREAT VIDEO PRESENTATION!!!!

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