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Back Pain Symptoms and Causes

What Causes Back Pain?

As stated above, back pain has many possible causes.  These causes may be skeletal, muscular, or nervous system in nature.  Any time mid to lower back pain is experienced it is important to rule out kidney involvement.  A physician, or chiropractor, or some nurse practitioners can make this determination.

The vertebrae of the spinal column are designed to rest atop each other in a very organized pattern.   If they slip out of place they put pressure on the nerve bundles that exit at that point and stretch the ligaments and tendons attached to them.  Fractures to the vertebrae will also cause pain due to the injury itself and the inflammation surrounding the injury.

The discs that provide cushioning for the vertebrae can bulge or rupture at times causing extra pressure on the nerves and friction between the bones.  A bulging disc will also cause problems with flexion and extension in that joint of the spine.  These are often the result of muscle imbalances.

Any of the muscles of the back can be strained, causing pain.  The most commonly strained muscles are the erector spinae.  This results in lower back pain and stiffness.  The latissimus dorsi can be strained as well, leading to pain under the arm and across the middle of the back. The muscles of the upper back can be strained, especially with postural issues.

Back pain can be caused by acute injuries or chronic conditions.  An acute injury can cause the muscles to stretch or tear (a strain), fractures to the vertebrae or ribs, dislocations or subluxations of the vertebrae or ribs, deep bruising, or a bulging disc.  Chronic conditions, most commonly muscle imbalances, can result in many of the same issues.  Imbalances may occur in strength, flexibility, or both. The imbalance itself can cause pain, but more often it leads to another condition that results in pain.

A common imbalance resulting in back pain is the shortening of the hip flexors and weakening of the gluteus and other muscles of the hips, from extended time spent sitting.  This causes an excessive forward pull from the tight hip flexors and can lead to injury in any of these muscles.

Signs and Symptoms

The first symptom of back pain is pain.  The pain may be focused or radiate.  Weakness at or below the site of the pain may also result.  Stiffness in the muscles around the injury site is also common.  Classic symptoms of back pain include:

  • Pain - at the site of the injury or along the nerve pathway.  This pain may increase with movement and also may become worse with prolonged periods in one position.
  • Stiffness - along the spinal column or in the injured muscle.
  • Weakness - below the injury site or throughout the back and extremities.
  • Tingling/Numbness - in the lower extremities, especially after sitting for extended periods.

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