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In younger people, low back pain is often caused by a protrusion or hernia of one of the lumbar vertebrae’s intervertebral discs. This cause of back pain is less common in the elderly, simply because their discs are more stiff and dry from aging –they suffer more from things like osteoarthritis in the back.
The inner core of the intervertebral disc, called the nucleus pulposus, is a gel-like substance that is subject to compression pressure. Surrounding the nucleus pulposus is the annulus fibrosis, which is a tough fibrocartilage tissue that acts to hold the nucleus pulposus inside the intervertebral disc. The more pressure exerted on the nucleus pulposus, the greater the chance there is of it pushing itself through the annulus fibrosis fibrocartilage and thus pushing on the spinal cord or another peripheral nerve.
If you lean forward, the nucleus pulposus will tend to push backwards. If you lean backward, the nucleus pulposus will tend to push forward. Likewise if you lean from side to side, the nucleus will shift from side to side. Bending at the waist while twisting your spine significantly increases the pressure distributed in the intervertebral disc. If you bend and twist while picking up or pushing something heavy, you are increasing your risk of causing a disc protrusion of the nucleus pulposus –resulting in significant back pain.
Disc problems most commonly occur in the low back lumbar area and put pressure on the cauda equina (horses tail) peripheral nerves, because the spinal cord does not extend into the lower lumbar area. In severe cases, radiculopathy and sciatica can occur. This is when a nerve in or near the spine is pinched, thus causing symptoms that run down a limb. Depending on which nerve is pinched, radiation may occur down your leg or into your foot –causing pain, tingling, numbness, and even weakness. If the nerves controlling your leg muscles are affected, you may not be able to walk.
Symptoms may improve, get worse, or stay the same –all depending on the severity of the radiculopathy from your spine. Symptoms usually subside over several days or weeks, but in severe cases symptoms may linger and even require spinal surgery in order to relieve the person from radiculopathy. A needle may be used to extract the protruding nucleus pulposus or a more extensive operation may be required –such as a spinal fusion.
Since lifting heavy items can cause back pain, it is only logical that people who are overweight or obese will experience increased risk of back problems. The additional weight they carry throughout the day when performing activities of daily living and lifting will make them more susceptible to back injuries.
If you already experience frequent back pain, losing weight will probably decrease or eliminate the frequency and intensity of your back pain.