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What causes back pain?

It's hard to pinpoint a specific cause for back pain without a comprehensive diagnosis from a qualified professional. In the fitness world, we see a variety of issues starting with poor posture or inefficient gate mechanics. Other potential causes for back pain could be lack of stability/mobility in the small muscles that stabilize the core.

The lack of "core strength" can be a result of being overweight, ineffective workout programs or sitting for long periods of time.

My suggestion—change your working environment (get up and move around), think about losing a few pounds and find a fitness professional that can build a program specific to your needs.

Back pain can be caused by a multitude of different things. In the fitness world, we often see muscle imbalances that ultimately end up causing back pain. For instance, if the psoas, one of your hip flexors, is chronically shortened, then it could cause back pain. This, because it actually attaches to the lumbar spine. The tightness causes un-natural pulling on the spine, and in turn, causes back pain. A similar mechanism for back pain, although not directly attaching to the spine, is having tight hamstrings.

You can stretch the psoas and hamstrings by watching and following the videos below.

Injury to a muscle or a ligament in the back is the most common reason people experience back pain. When you strain a muscle or ligament, you may feel pain immediately, or days later.

But an underlying health condition, such as arthritis, could be to blame, too. Osteoarthritis is the most common form of the disease. Ruptured or herniated disks in the spine—which become increasingly likely with age—can pinch nerves and cause pain, too.

Other medical problems that may lead to back pain include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Scoliosis
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Degenerative disk disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Infections (such as osteomyelitis or meningitis)

Take the RealAge Test!

There can be some serious health issues that cause back pain, so check with your physician to rule those out.

In the people that I see musculoskeletal issues are the most common cause for back pain. So sit up tall and take a deep breathe. Sitting and poor posture are two major contributors to back pain. Research has shown that the longer we sit at a computer the more we trend to slump forward.

  • Over 80 percent of people in the United States will experience low back pain at some point in their life.
  • The good news about low back pain? Fifty percent will go away on it's own. The bad news? Fifty percent will reoccur.
  • It is an epidemic that costs nearly $26,000,000,000 billion (yes with a "B") a year in treatment and lost wages.
  • Low back injuries account for more than 60 percent of work related injuries.
  • Low back injuries lead to 39 million lost days of work per year.

Human beings were not designed to sit in an office. Low back pain is more common among societies that are technologically based, i.e. it's members sit most of the day. In fact males who sit more than 4 hours per day in a vehicle (like police officers and professional drivers) are at a greater than 300% risk for a disc injury in their low back than those who do not do so.

Can lifting something heavy with poor form cause an injury? Or a motor vehicle accident or sports injury? Of course, but most of the patients I see have pain from poor posture and repetitive movements. Movements that cause compression, bending and twisting forces increase pressure on the discs in between our vertebrae. Crunches done without development of the smaller muscles around the spine are a too blame as well.

Limitations in ankle movement and hip rotation can contribute to low back pain as well so remember to look at the big picture. Our bodies are like one giant, interconnected series of links or one long chain. In fact it is often referred to as the kinetic (movement) chain. If there is dysfunction in any link throughout the chain, it can cause symptoms (like pain) anywhere throughout.

So move your body, stretch, practice core stability exercises, lay off the crunches, sit tall and take a break from your computer screen once an hour. Your back will be glad you did.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.