What are the Causes of Lumbago (Lower Back Pain)?

Lumbago, or lower back pain, is an annoying problem. In more serious cases, it can be paralyzing until it's resolved. Posture, whilst working or doing exercise, is often a cause, but it's not the only one. In this article, we'll tell you all about it.
What are the Causes of Lumbago (Lower Back Pain)?

Last update: 29 November, 2020

The causes of lumbago, or lower back pain, are varied, but this annoyance is always related to the muscular structure and spinal column. It’s often the reason why people visit a doctor or are unable to work.

In these instances, the pain is located in the lower part of the back. Throughout our lives, almost everyone will suffer from it at some point. Specialists diagnose the majority of cases with a good prognosis, and they’re easy to resolve. However, 15% of lumbago cases become chronic.

In this article, we’ll explain the most common causes of lumbago. Some of them can be prevented, so we’ll also discuss some simple measures that can help you avoid this situation.

Causes of lumbago

As we’ve already mentioned, lumbago is a pain that occurs in the lower part of the back. This annoyance can spread and extend to your limbs. It’s a very common ailment that can affect people of any age.

So much so, that according to a study by the Center for Medical-Surgical Investigations (el Centro de Investigaciones Médico-Quirúrgicas), it affects between 60 and 90% of the general public. Among these, 80% of cases are acute, and the rest are chronic.

The pain has specific characteristics. For example, it usually intensifies when the person suffering bends down or tries to lift something. Furthermore, it can spread; it may not reach the legs, but it can reach the buttocks.

In some cases, lumbago is associated with sciatica; a pathology that causes a pinching of the sciatic nerve. In these cases, it’s common for the pain to extend to the lower extremities.

The causes of lower back pain are usually related to a problem with the way the spinal column functions. In a revised article published in the Costa Rica and Central American Medical Journal (la Revista Médica de Costa Rica y Centroamérica), specialists affirm that factors such as age, sex, genetics, sport, and work can influence the development of this issue.

Woman with back pain.
Lumbago can affect people of any age due to a variety of causes.

Physical over-exertion 

Physically over-exerting yourself is one of the most common causes of lower back pain, as a study by the Miguel Hernandez University (la Universidad de Miguel Hernández) explains; here we’re talking about any kind of sporting activity that puts a sudden strain on the back.

An example would be strength training when you’re not used to it, or if you’re in good physical health, but you move suddenly in a way that injures the ligaments in the spinal column.

That said, exercise isn’t the only cause of lower back pain. It’s important to highlight that lower back pain caused by over-exertion is common in the workplace, as a study conducted by the Autonomous Metropolitan University (la Universidad Autónoma Metropolitanaattempts to demonstrate.

Disc injuries as a cause of lower back pain

Intervertebral discs are a kind of cushioning between vertebrates; they help to soften any shock. They’re formed by cartilage tissue and, just like all other parts of the body, are sensitive to aging.

By this, we mean that, as we get older, it becomes increasingly more common for these discs to rupture. If this happens, they release chemical substances that irritate the nerves, causing inflammation or pain.

Herniated discs are another pathology related to lumbago and sciatica. A herniated disc is where the center of the disc sticks out, protruding through the spinal column. When this happens, it presses on the nerves that pass through.

Disc degeneration 

Above, we mentioned that, with age, the cartilage tissue in the discs begins to wear away, reducing its ability to cushion any shock. When this happens, the vertebrates can crash against each other, causing stiffness and lower back pain.

The problem here is that disc degeneration can aggravate other spinal column illnesses, like spinal stenosis or spinal osteoarthritis.

Degenerative spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is where one vertebrate is abnormally stacked on top of another as if it has slipped. What happens here is that whenever the vertebrates move, they put pressure on the nerves, which causes pain and the inability to move.

As explained by the University of Navarra’s Medical Center (la Clínica de la Universidad de Navarra), degenerative spondylolisthesis occurs when the tissue that stabilizes the vertebrates disintegrates; it could be either the ligaments or the intervertebral discs.

Nevertheless, that’s not the only cause. Spondylolisthesis can appear after a trauma, as a consequence of a tumor, or due to some kind of congenital deformity.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a pathology where the spinal canal narrows. A large number of the peripheral nerves pass through this canal. Therefore, when it constricts, the nerves are pressed and subsequently damaged.

Recommendations to prevent lumbago

Some of the causes of lower back pain are preventable, although there are factors that can’t be managed. However, there are a series of simple measures that can improve the health of the spinal column.

First of all, it’s important to highlight that exercise is one the most beneficial activities; especially moderate exercise that helps to strengthen the muscles in the back. However, you should avoid harsh movements, or using too much weight, as this can damage the ligaments.

Similarly, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle is best as this way you refrain from staying in the same position for too long. In terms of preventing back pain in the workplace, specialists recommend that we stretch during our breaks, and that we avoid twisting or over-extending ourselves, especially if we work with weight.

Obesity is another factor that can increase the risk of suffering from lower back pain. Losing weight, therefore, can lessen the pressure on the spinal column.

An obese patient with a medic.
Controlling your weight is key to prevent obesity-induced lumbago.

If you suffer from one of the causes of lumbago, take action

There are many causes of lower back pain, and this kind of pain is quite common. If you do suffer an episode, you must keep certain considerations in mind: it’s always best to consult a specialist.

Furthermore, when dealing with lower back pain, professionals advise against long periods of bed rest. In fact, it’s more effective to stay active, without forcing yourself.

Some people experience some improvement with the pain when applying compresses of warm or cold water to the affected area. Warm water usually alleviates the pain when kept there for some time, and cold compresses are good at reducing the inflammation of the injury.

One of the most important aspects to remember is that the majority of back pain is related to bad posture. As such, being aware of our posture habits and trying to improve them is a good starting point.

When working, studying, or even relaxing, you should try to keep your back straight. When making any sort of effort, like catching or lifting an object, specialists recommend that we involve other parts of the body, like the legs. In this way, the back doesn’t take the brunt of the tension.

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  • Espondilolistesis: Síntomas, diagnóstico y tratamiento. Clínica Universidad de Navarra. (n.d.). Retrieved October 22, 2020, from https://www.cun.es/enfermedades-tratamientos/enfermedades/espondilolistesis
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