Low back pain is a general term, and many conditions can be the culprit for causing pain in the lower back, hips and sciatica-type pain.
The spine consists of 24 blocky bones (vertebrae) stacked on top of each other in a flexible column that allows our body to move. Between each vertebra sits a soft, rubbery cushion made of cartilaginous fibres and hydrated proteins known as an intervertebral disc.
Intervertebral discs act as shock absorbers for our spine, much like brake pads in a vehicle. Discs absorb the impact of numerous physical activities: running, bending over, sitting, jumping on a trampoline, and more. Intervertebral discs also absorb physical forces sustained in stationary positions like sitting at a football game or in front of a computer for long periods.
Intervertebral discs are located along the spine in our neck, mid back, and lower back. They also bend and twist with movements of the spine, allowing our bodies to be flexible.
How do they accomplish this? Intervertebral discs are shaped like jelly donuts with a tough, fibrous outer portion known as the annulus fibrosis and a soft, gel-like inner portion called the nucleus pulposus. This combination of a more rigid exterior and softer interior allows it to distribute the forces we encounter with our everyday activities and physical exertion – all because this bendable disc absorbs the forces of physics.
Imagine dropping a jelly doughnut onto the sidewalk and stepping on it.
The term “slipped disc,” more accurately known as a bulging or herniated disc, refers to some damage that has occurred to either the annulus fibrosis, the nucleus pulposus, or both.
The damage can be minor – think of a small paper cut that heals just fine on its own. Sometimes, the outer portion of the intervertebral disc tears, resulting in large bulges in the annulus fibrosis. If the tearing and damage to the annulus fibrosis are extensive, the nucleus pulposus may leak out.
Damage to this tough exterior of the intervertebral disc can also irritate the nerves on the outer third of the annulus fibrosis, causing pain and other sequelae to occur.
Compromise to the disc structure is commonly thought to occur from accidents or traumas, but this isn’t always the case. Although injuries from traumatic accidents like sporting injuries, vehicle collisions, or slips and falls can cause damage to the disc, degeneration or accumulated wear and tear on the body can also cause discs to become more susceptible to injury and damage! Sometimes degeneration occurs from age, but it also can occur naturally.
Thankfully, the rubbery discs in our spine are a lot stronger than a jelly doughnut!
Although intervertebral discs can be injured, there may not be any symptoms. A disc injury may not always be painful or even result in pain or a loss of function.
If there is a disc bulge or herniation, surgery is not always necessary to relieve the problem, either. Why is this?
Disc bulges can occur naturally in the body without producing any signs or symptoms that they exist.
It’s when signs and symptoms, such as pain and a decreased ability to perform regular activities, may indicate the need for some intervention.
Certain conditions increase the risk of developing disc herniations and disc injury. These are:
- Weight. Obesity and excess body weight places additional stress on the discs, primarily in the lower back.
- Occupation. People with labor-intensive jobs have a greater risk of developing back problems. This includes repetitive lifting, pulling, pushing, twisting, bending at the waist, and leaning from side to side.
- Genetics. Some people inherit a predisposition to developing a disc herniation.
- Smoking. Smoking decreases the oxygen supply to the disc, causing the cartilaginous fibers to break down more quickly
A lumbar strain is when an injury occurs to the muscles of the low back. A sprain, on the other hand, is an injury to the ligaments or joints; both, however, have similar pain and symptom patterns. When these muscles or ligaments become injured, it can lead to dysfunctional movements, and cause instability in the spine. Patients suffering from this diagnosis often have pain when attempting to walk, sit, exercise and can even occur during sleep.
- Car collisions
- Poor movement mechanics
- Poor posture
- Heavy lifting
Back pain can keep you from performing essential daily functions. Whether standing, bending over, sitting down at work, or even just getting out of bed, everything is affected.
The great news is that more than 90% of those with low back pain report significant improvement within one month of receiving treatment! However, the right treatment is necessary, as there are numerous potential causes of low back pain.
There are 4 main causes of low back pain:
- Lumbar Joint Irritation
- Lumbar Sprain/Strains
- Lumbar Disc Disorders
- Lumbar Stenosis
If you are experiencing low back pain, E3 Chiropractic + Wellness in Saskatoon is here to help! We will perform a thorough examination to determine the root cause of your pain and give you the tools you need to get free from pain so that your body performs and feels better than you ever thought possible.