We usually consider the back as two separate sections: the upper back, or thoracic spine, and the lower back, or lumbar vertebra. Most chronic back pain occurs in the lower back. In fact, lower back pain is one of the most common conditions and one of the leading causes of physician visits in the U.S. At least four out of five adults will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives.
How does back pain develop?
Many cases of back pain, especially in young people, are caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine, congenital abnormalities, injury, spondyloarthropathies and herniated disc syndromes. Sedentary jobs and lifestyles may create a vulnerability to this type of stress or damage. Obesity, which increases both the weight on the spine and the pressure on the discs, is another factor. Strenuous sports such as football and gymnastics can also damage the back.
The most common cause of chronic back pain and disability is osteoarthritis, although other forms of arthritis can be culprits as well, including rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic arthritis and gouty arthritis. Osteoarthritis afflicts most of us as we age, steadily wearing away the smooth and resilient cartilage essential to normal joint and disc function.
It's important to note that the severity of pain experienced in this area is often unrelated to the extent of physical damage. For instance, a muscle spasm from a simple back strain can cause excruciating pain, making it difficult for the individual to walk or even stand. On the other hand, a herniated disc or completely degenerated disc can be completely painless.
What are the symptoms of back pain?
Common back pain symptoms experienced by people under the age of 60 can include leg pain and numbness (usually a result of a herniated disc), lower back pain caused by movement (a common symptom of degenerative disc disorder and osteoarthritis onset), and low back pain and leg pain that worsens while standing.
In addition, individuals with minor back pain may be experiencing the earliest symptoms of arthritis. Osteoarthritis can begin in those as young as thirty, and may progress for many years before symptoms appear.
The types of pain experienced by older adults may include increased low back pain and stiffness in the morning and evening, and pain that radiates down the legs when walking or standing upright.
Conventional medical treatments help relieve the symptoms of back pain but they do not address the root of the problem. By strengthening the structural weaknesses in the back, as natural medicine therapies do, chronic back pain can be alleviated permanently.