Healthy Living

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

Key Takeaways

  • Severe or aching pain after sudden movement or lifting is the main symptom of lower back pain in younger adults while most aging adults experience pain mostly in the mornings and again in the evenings.
  • One of the main causes of lower back pain in younger adults is back muscle strain, while in adults over 50 years, spinal compression fracture is the most common cause.
  • Depression and stress could also lead to lower back pain in both younger and older adults, in which case you should consult a psychologist or another health practitioner for treatment. 

Basically anyone can experience lower back pain but studies have shown that adults of age 30 to 60 years tend to have a higher chance of experiencing back pain. Nevertheless, no one is safe from lower back pain.

Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of problems with any parts of the complex, interconnected network of spinal muscles, nerves, bones, discs or tendons in the lumbar spine. An irritation or problem with any of these structures can cause lower back pain. Many lower back problems also cause back muscle spasms, which can cause severe pain and disability.

Symptoms of low back pain in younger adults

Severe or aching pain is the main symptom of lower back pain. This may develop after sudden movement, lifting something heavy or after any other daily activity. The pain may move down to the buttocks, groin and upper thigh. It can go all the way down to the knees in some cases.

You may experience pain when making any movements like standing, bending or walking. Severe muscle spasms can also be experienced in severe cases. You may feel soreness when the affected area is touched.

Possible causes of low back pain in younger adults

  • Back muscle strain
    This is one of the main causes of acute lower back pain. It is when the muscles or ligaments in the back tear or stretch due to twisting, lifting of heavy things or a sudden unexpected movement. In this case, you may experience either mild or severe pain that moves down to the buttocks, legs and all the way down to the foot (sciatica) depending on how bad the strain or tear is. You may also develop other symptoms like:
    • Worse pain in the legs and foot compared to the lower back.
    • Pain may go on for days without subsiding.
    • Normally the pain may be felt on one side of the legs or buttocks.
    • You may feel a temporary relief when walking after standing or sitting still for long periods.
    • You may experience numbness or weakness making it difficult to move a leg or foot.
  • Lumbar herniated disc
    This is another condition that can cause sciatica. Pain moves along the large sciatic nerve that goes all the way down to the feet through the buttocks and legs. Chronic lower back pain may be experienced and may get worse in certain movements and positions. It may be accompanied by one or two of the following symptoms:
    • Incidences of severe muscle spasms accompanied with pain that remain for days or even, months.
    • Pain gets worse when sitting.
    • Severe or just mild chronic pain.
    • You may feel a lot better when running or walking compared to when sitting or just standing still.
    • Frequent change of positions relieves pain.
  • Degenerative disc disease
    This is a condition caused by a breakdown of the lumbar discs between the vertebrae. These damaged disks cause instability and inflammation in the lower back. In this case, you may experience muscle spasms, pain and even sciatica. The pain in the lower back will get worse when you make any movements like walking. The other symptoms are:
    • Pain gets worse when bending backward
    • Sitting in a reclining position relieves the pain.
    • Tiredness and numbness in the legs especially after a wal
    • Sciatica or radicular pain.
    • You may also experience tight hamstrings that make it difficult to touch your toes.
  • Isthmic spondylolisthesis
    This is a condition where by a vertebra in the lower back moves forward on a disk space below it. The nerve root is compressed causing low back pain due to the instability. The fracture may occur during childhood but its effects may be witnessed during adulthood. Lower back pain that travels down to the buttock or groin is the main symptom. It is often accompanied by the following symptoms: 
    • Pain goes all the way to the hips and thighs.
    • Sitting makes the pain worse while lying down relieves the pain.
    • You may also relief a relief in pain when you change positions.
  • Facet joint osteoarthritis
    This is when the cartilage between the facet joints break down causing back pain or sciatica. It can also be referred to as osteoarthritis or degenerative arthritis. The main symptom of this condition is leg pain that is experienced when standing or walking. Others are:
    • Developing leg pains after walking for a while.
    • Sitting down relieves the pain.
    • The symptoms occur gradually over longer periods of time.
    • Sciatica accompanied by numbness and weakness developing from the lower back into the buttocks and the legs.
  • Sacroiliac Joint Disease 
    This condition is caused by too little or too much movement in the joints that connect the hips to the sacrum at the bottom of the spine called sacroiliac joints.

Causes of lower back pain in younger adults may differ from the ones in older adults of age 60 years and above.

Symptoms of low back pain in aging adults

While it’s normal for older adults to experience lower back pain as a result of the same causes as younger adults, there are a few causes of pain that are common with the older adults of 60 years and above. Most of these causes are connected to degeneration of the joints in the spine. 

Two of these causes are spinal stenosis and osteoarthritis.

Here are the general symptoms that mostly show in older adults:

  • Lack of sleep due to pain.
  • Pain is often experienced in the mornings and again in the evenings.
  • Tenderness may be felt when the affected area is pressed.
  • The back losses its flexibility and bending becomes a major problem.

Possible causes of Low Back Pain in aging adults

  • Spinal compression fractureThis is among the first causes to be suspected in the case of back pain in aging adults of 50 years and above. This is common cause in men and women who have used steroids during their younger years or women with osteoporosis who have reached their menopause.
  • Facet joint osteoarthritis
    This is a degenerative condition which grows slowly over a long period of time and the symptoms come when the cartilage in the facets joints break down. It is one of the most witnessed causes of lower back pain in aging adults. At first, the symptoms are irregular but can later become more frequent and will eventually cause lower back pain and sciatica. The primary symptom is pain that is experienced in the legs after a walk or standing for a period of time. Other symptoms are:
    • Sitting down relieves the lower back pain.
    • Symptoms may vary from mild to severe.
    • Can’t walk for long distances due to leg pain.
    • Symptoms take a long time to develop.
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis
    This condition can apply pressure on the nerves in the spine. Pressure is immensely increased when standing or walking and this causes pain in the legs. The symptoms that a patient may experience are:
    • Pain gets worse when walking or standing.
    • Loss of height.
    • Lying on the back relieves pain.
    • Abrupt pain at the lower back.

There are other causes of lower back pain in both younger and older adults like depression and stress. These cases should often be referred to a psychologist or any other health practitioner for treatment.