Did you know that statistically speaking, every person on the planet will experience some form of back pain throughout their lives. Crazy right? It almost sounds exaggerated, but given the world we live in, the increased sedentary nature of human beings and the decrease in physically intensive habits it is in actual fact not so crazy after all.
That being said, not everyone will suffer from back pain, but rather experience it at different levels of severity. It could be a sudden attack that lasts a few hours, a slow build up of symptoms due to bad posture or it may be caused by a serious and traumatic injury. Regardless of the stimuli at onset, back pain is almost Thanos-like… Inevitable. That one was for all my Marvel nerds, but unlike the Avengers chronic back pain is no fantasy, it’s very real.
And the realest of them all is chronic lower back pain. Chronic lower back pain is identified as persistent discomfort of varying severity in the lumbar region of your back. However, this term tends to be used as a general term for all injuries and or painful symptoms. Which isn’t the case and forms part of the discussion we’re about to have.
Therefore, his article will form part of a series covering the lower back in general, the anatomy, injuries and the respective rehabilitation and recovery.
But first I think we should definitely take a step back and look at the anatomy and structures of this specific area of the body.
Anatomy of the Back…
The lumbar region of the back is the region marked between the L1-L5 vertebrae of the spine. In layman’s terms, the vertebrae act as your body’s shock absorbers and are predominantly made up of bone and cartilage. Supporting structures such as ligaments and tendons aid in the primary functions of the spine and vertebral bodies.
The lumbar area forms part of your body's central core and plays a significant role in postural control, balance and load bearing. This area of the spine is surrounded by superficial and deep lying musculature that aid the lumbar region in carrying out it’s anatomical and biomechanical functions. Connective tissues in this area include the deep erector spinae, multifidus muscle groups and the more superficial groups like the thoracolumbar fascia and by origin or insertion the latissimus dorsi and gluteal muscles. Each of these tissues serve either a postural function or biomechanical purpose such as core stability, extension and flexion of the trunk etc.
Let’s Focus on the Lower Back…
The above anatomical breakdown is a general overview of the lower back, however in order for us to focus on the risk factors and injuries that cause lower back pain, we will need to assess exactly the function the lower back serves.
Protection is arguably the most important function the lumbar area of the back serves. The spinal is the root of all biomechanical functions, the lumbar spine and its surrounding structures aid in the safeguarding of this vital body organ. Yes, it’s an organ, just ask all the fancy neurological dudes.
Anyway, postural control and various movement patterns are the other important functions carried out by our lower back. The lower back helps keep you upright, stops you from falling over during walking and running and even ensures that you can get up off the toilet.
As you can see, the lower back is a vital component of human anatomy but this also, unfortunately, makes it extremely susceptible to injury. This is ultimately why lower back issues are so common amongst the general population.
Disclaimer: We will be using the terms issues and injuries interchangeably. This is based on the fact that there are a myriad of conditions that can affect our lower backs, so generalizing this a little bit will help with the overall comprehension of the conditions.
Lower back conditions tend to fall into one of two categories:
Chronic lower back issues, which are injuries that get progressively worse over time. This time period can be as short as 30 days or as long as 10 years. These conditions often start out with some tightness, slight weakness or a bit of discomfort in the general lower back region of the body. Over time they worsen and get more specific, to the point where someone who suffers from chronic issues can pinpoint the specific area and overall patterns of pain he or she experiences.
Acute lower back issues, occur suddenly and are usually caused by a sudden direct force or load placed on the lower back. Think in terms of lifting a heavy box with bad technique or being in an accident like falling from a flight of stairs. Either or acute lower back conditions occurred rapidly and more often than not are far more painful and severe than chronic injuries. They may affect more than one area of the lower back or even radiate to the extremities.
That being said, at times these descriptions have been known to act and present interchangeably. In cases like these the person tends to have a significant flare up of painful symptoms all while still suffering from an underlying condition. So with people in this category, one usually finds it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of their issue or injury.
Why Lower Back Issues Matter…
Before we dive into the specifics surrounding the types of injuries etc, we want to use this article to shed light on the importance of this matter. Chronic lower back pain caused by injury, overuse or bad postural habits affect all of us. The back and by extension the lower back, is far more important than we tend to realize. Have you ever “thrown out” your back? Or had one of those searingly painful back spasms that essentially had you unable to walk or even move for that matter. This is because the back in its entirety dictates so much of our daily movement. So that’s why this issue matters.
Unfortunately, chronic lower back pain isn’t a “sexy injury”, you know something that sounds intriguing or an injury that might need a cool cast or brace. Yes, I know you get back braces, bear with me, I am trying to make a point here. The point is that our backs and their respective injuries or issues matter, and it’s time we start taking it a bit more seriously.
With that being said, this series of articles will also take a look at lower back injuries and the rehabilitation of said injuries. So if you add in this overview we just covered we believe this series will equip with the necessary information to address any current or future lower back concerns.