While low back pain is remarkably common, the issues are caused by a variety of conditions or injuries involving the intricate network of spinal muscles, nerves, bones, discs, or tendons in the lumbar spine. An affliction to any of the local structures of the lumbar spine can result in radiating pain that may travel to other parts of the body but the symptoms and severity of low back pain vary greatly for each individual. These are 5 common conditions that could be the source of your low back pain.
Sciatica refers to a group of symptoms rather than a particular condition. Sciatica is identified by one or multiple symptoms consisting of chronic pain that extends from the lower back down to the buttocks and leg, tingling sensations on the lower extremities, numbness and weakness, or difficulty performing everyday activities like walking or sitting. These occur when the sciatic nerve roots become compressed and irritated due to an underlying condition in the lumbar spine that causes the impingement of the nerves.
Lumbar spinal stenosis is a gradual condition classified by degeneration in the spine that results in a narrowing of the spinal canal. With age, the spine progressively changes and degenerates, eventually leading to a narrower spinal channel that begins to pinch the spinal nerve roots and causes the identifiable low back pain, tingling, and numbness symptoms. Some people are born with a congenital form of the condition but the majority develop lumbar spine stenosis when degeneration becomes present in older people, usually over the age of 50.
Another condition due to degeneration in the spine, spondylolisthesis develops in the lower back when a single vertebra in the lumbar area shifts forward over the vertebrae below it, causing the natural structure of the spine to misalign. Typical symptoms of the condition include the symptoms of sciatica. However, when stress causes a small fracture in the spinal segments that causes the vertebra to slip forward, this altered condition is known as isthmic spondylolisthesis and commonly occurs in young individuals.
Not all conditions causing low back pain originate from the lumbar spine. Dysfunction in the sacroiliac joint also yields symptoms of sharp pain in the lower back and lower extremities, tingling, and numbness. The sacroiliac joint is located between the sacrum and the back of the hip. This joint supports the movements of the lower limbs together with the muscles, nerves, and tendons in the lumbar area. With overuse or underuse, the muscles surrounding the sacroiliac joint become inflamed or tight, which lead to sacroiliac joint dysfunction.
Osteoarthritis, or arthritis through degeneration, can develop anywhere in the body resulting in the breakdown of the bone and cartilage of the spine from natural wear and tear changes. From all the degenerative lumbar spine conditions known today, facet joint arthritis is among the most common of them all. The facet joints are aligned on the back of the spine and their purpose is to link each vertebra together. The joints are covered with articular cartilage but when this erodes as we age, the facet joints develop arthritis, greatly affecting the flexibility and movement of the spine.
Source: Facet Joint Osteoarthritis
Most of these lumbar spine conditions are a result of degeneration that naturally occurs as we age but with the proper treatments and exercises, these can be avoided and prevented. Strengthening the lower back muscles often helps ease the symptoms associated with these conditions and can also prevent certain conditions. It’s essential to consult a health professional when symptoms become present in order to begin treatment as early as possible.
By Dr. Alex Jimenez
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Injury, Trauma & Spinal Rehabilitation Specialist