Back pain can be a mysterious ailment that really affects your quality of life... and if you're suffering from the associated mobility limitations and discomfort that accompany back issues, you'll surely be eager to discover what's really going on so you can get back to living a pain-free existence.
If you've been experiencing back pain and are looking for effective relief, it's helpful first to zero in on where the pain is, and then develop an understanding of what your pain's location might mean for you overall.
As our spines are a complex structure of bones, joints, nerves, ligaments, and muscles that are all working together to provide support, strength, and flexibility to fuel our movement- it's easy for one of the elements at play in this complex structure to get out of alignment or sustain damage. It can just take the slightest tweak to throw something off balance, leaving us susceptible to injury or pain.
Here, we uncover what your back issues could be caused by, based on the location of the pain, so you can go back to basics and figure out what issues you're working with to establish a starting point for your treatment.
Let's take a look at the two main areas where your back pain could be presenting: The lower back- called the lumbar spine, and the thoracic spine or the upper/middle back...
The Lower Back (Lumbar Spine)
The lower back, or lumbar spine, is the region of the spine that's most susceptible to damage and pain.
As it provides mobility for everyday motions such as bending and twisting, it's subjected to a lot of manipulation as a result of our frequent movement. These muscles in your lower back are responsible for flexing and rotating your hips while walking, so they're pretty much constantly being used as we go about our day.
The most common cause of lower back pain is soft tissue damage such as a pulled muscle, which can occur through repetitive movement or awkward motions that tweak the muscles.
If you're experiencing acute lower back pain, there might be a more exaggerated injury that's causing your ongoing and severe discomfort. Acute lower back pain usually results from an injury to the muscles, ligaments, joints, or discs. This is because the body puts forth an inflammatory response to the region of the injury to help heal itself, which results in pain in the process.
Fortunately, muscles and ligaments heal rapidly, making this acute pain not last too long before your body gets to work healing itself.
Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Chronic low back pain is commonly caused by a disc or joint problem, or an irritated nerve root. Nerves in the low back provide sensation and power to the muscles in the pelvis and legs.
Therefore, when a nerve is compressed or irritated, pain can spread down through the buttocks, legs, and feet. This pain can be dull and aching, get worse after prolonged sitting, and get better when you change position.
Causes of this chronic low back pain include a lumbar herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, osteoarthritis, compression fracture, and scoliosis.
The Upper Back (Thoracic Spine)
The thoracic spine, most commonly called the upper or middle back, is known to be remarkably resistant to injury and pain.
When pain does occur in this upper region of the back, it is more indicative of a poor posture or an injury that directly targets the thoracic spine like a high impact fall.
There are multiple levels of the thoracic spine indicated by each stacked bone called vertebrae. At each level, there are two nerve roots on each side of the vertebrae that allow for the normal sensations and motor functions of that specific side of the body.
If a nerve root is affected by becoming compressed or inflamed, thoracic radiculopathy symptoms can occur. This would include pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness that radiates to specific regions on your body depending on which level is affected. Thoracic radiculopathy is also more commonly felt on one side of the body instead of both.
Common Causes of Upper Back Pain
Upper or middle back pain is more commonly caused by poor posture, improper lifting techniques, overuse, or an accident or collision. This pain is less commonly caused by a herniated disc, compression fracture, arthritis, fibromyalgia, or a severe spinal deformity.
It should also be noted that although they are rare, spinal tumors or an infection in the spine or elsewhere in your body may also be the cause of upper or middle back pain.
If your upper or middle back pain occurs without any sign of emergency, there are several self-care treatments available to alleviate the pain without medical intervention. However, if you experience other issues at the same time as your upper back pain such as trouble breathing, fever and chills, or a severe headache, seek medical attention immediately.