Updated March 2016

common risk factors and back pain

What might I be doing wrong to cause my lower back pain?

There are a variety of factors that may contribute to your back pain and its recurrences

At any given time, more than one of these factors may be at work.  The risks themselves vary as your activities and lifestyles do.  The amount of time that you spend, the intensity, and especially the way in which your perform your activity plays a significant role in the degree of pain that you experience.  Your sources of pain will also change as your activity changes, making it more difficult to diagnose and treat.

Although some back problems are preventable, others may not be.  Some unavoidable problems include direct injury to the spine or lower back, accidents or even illness.  Here are some preventable factors that affect your pain:


Physical Strain and Stress on your Muscles, Joints and Ligaments

Over use, under use, misuse and poor condition of these parts of the body can lead to injury of the lower back.  Muscle problems and injury can occur from the cumulative build up of small strains and tears.  This potentially leads to painful back spasm and muscle guarding.  Without adequate treatment, a cycle of healing and injury may occur.

Examples of strain and stress are:

    • intense exercise beyond your normal limits
    • exercise without adequate training or conditioning
    • improper lifting technique
    • repetitive use of a particular muscle group
    • unhealthy body weight
    • sedentary lifestyle, extended sitting

Mental and Emotional Stress

The daily toll of stress in our lives have a significant impact on our bodies.  This causes increased tension in our bodies that we may not even realize is occurring.  The lumbar spine is particularly prone to this form of stress because it is always in a state of contraction to support both the weight of the body and the movements from it.

Stress causes unnecessary tightness and fatigue to this area and reduces our ability to relax the muscles of our lower back.

Emotional stress almost always results in a tightening of the lower back.  This tension can remain well beyond the time that we experienced the stressful event and risk injury to our back.  Treatment for emotional stress can be more difficult to manage due to many factors beyond the scope of this article.

For some, stressful events can cause an immediate physical tension in the lower back.

Muscular Imbalances

Muscles that are tight, short, weak, overstretched and poorly conditioned will certainly increase our risk of low back pain.  Muscles that support both sides of the spine must be balanced to protect the vertebrae and disks.  Imbalances lead to disk pain and possible rupture.

Facet joints are vulnerable to excessive pressure from muscle imbalances.  Wear and injury to these joints can trigger further pain including back spasms.  Reconditioning the muscles groups with effective exercise is vital to correcting these imbalances.

Direct Injury to the Spine and Accidents

Injury to the spine can be both acute and chronic.  Accidents such as slips, falls or injury from heavy physical exertion are difficult to avoid. An acute injury that is not treated properly and resolved may lead to a chronic problem and further injury.   An injury in the past that has not yet sufficiently healed or correctly may return to aggravate your lower back.

Although the lumbar spine and supporting muscles can be very forgiving and tolerant of stressful demands,  they also can withstand high levels of abuse before signalling any need for corrective help, especially after injury.   Therefore, when you feel any discomfort, there is already significant injury occurring which may require extended time and care for recovery.

Disk Problems

Acute and chronic back problems can lead to disk injury and wear.   Disk bulge, rupture, herniation, tear and thinning are serious concerns that may require medical attention.  These injuries lead to increased pressure on the nerves of our spinal canal and increase wear on the facet joints of the vertebrae.   Exercise will help to stabilize and control any harmful movement to this area.

Facet Joint and Bone Degeneration

Wear to the facet joints and vertebrae creates significant lumbar pain.  They are usually accompanied by wear and thinning of the lumbar discs.  These areas of wear are typically part of the aging process.  Poor diet, exercise, conditioning and treatment may accelerate this process.

Nerve Problems

This usually occurs with skeletal damage as mentioned above and also accidental or direct injury.  Disc wear and thinning lead to progressive narrowing or impingement of the nerves that travel through the spinal canal and also the nerve roots that exit from it.

This can cause:

    • nerve pain
    • numbness
    • tingling sensations that travel out from the area of concern
    • radiating pain
    • sensation of pins and needles
    • poorer function of tissues and organs that receive nervous supply from the nerve
    • sciatica
    • spinal stenosis
    • cauda equine syndrome

For further information, see our back pain topics section of the menu.

To learn the specific exercises,  go to the ebook section.