MRI and x-ray for low back pain are surprisingly unreliable,1 because things like bulging discs usually aren’t a deal,2 most back pain goes away on its own,3 and trigger points (“muscle knots”) are common and can be alarmingly intense but aren’t dangerous.4 Most patients are much better off when they feel confident about these things. The power of justified, rational confidence is a huge factor in back pain.5 Sadly, many healthcare professionals continue to perpetuate the idea of fragile backs,6 which undermines that valuable confidence.
• Sciatica. This is inflammation of the sciatic nerve. The largest nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve runs from the lower part of the spinal cord, through the buttock and down the back of the leg to the foot. The most common causes of sciatica include compression of the nerve where it exists the spine by a herniated disc, or a rupture of one of the structures that cushions the vertebrae in the spine. Sciatica may be felt as a sharp or burning pain that radiates from the hip. It may also be accompanied by low back pain.
Acute back pain is often the result of muscle sprains or strains. Sprains occur when your ligaments are overstretched and sometimes torn. Strains, on the other hand, are caused by stretching — and possible tearing — of your tendons or muscles. Though the immediate reaction is pain in your back, you may also experience dull aches or discomfort in your hip.
Avulsion fractures of the apophyses of the pelvis are rare injuries. This injury occurs mainly in young persons, between the ages of 8 and 14, before they've fully grown. That is because fusion of these bones does not occur until between the ages of 15 and 17 years. The cause is typically a contraction of muscles during extreme sports activity. Treatment includes rest and physical therapy as well as pain medications.
People routinely have no pain despite the presence of obvious arthritic degeneration, herniated discs, and other seemingly serious structural problems like stenosis and spondylolistheses. This surprising contradiction has been made clear by a wide variety of research over the years, but the most notable in recent history is Brinjikji 2015. There are painful spinal problems, of course — which was also shown by Brinjikji et al in a companion paper — but they are mostly more rare and unpredictable than most people suspect, and there are many fascinating examples of people who “should” be in pain but are not, and vice versa. Spinal problems are only one of many ingredients in back pain. BACK TO TEXT
Enthoven WT, Geuze J, Scheele J, et al. Prevalence and "Red Flags" Regarding Specified Causes of Back Pain in Older Adults Presenting in General Practice. Phys Ther. 2016 Mar;96(3):305–12. PubMed #26183589. How many cases of back pain in older adults have a serious underlying cause? Only about 6% … but 5% of those are fractures (which are serious, but they aren’t cancer either). The 1% is divided amongst all other serious causes. In this study of 669 patients, a vertebral fracture was found in 33 of them, and the chances of this diagnosis was higher in older patients with more intense pain in the upper back, and (duh) trauma. BACK TO TEXT
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to having weak and tight hip flexors as they are always in the shortened position. Tight hip flexors can lead to a limited range of motion, poor posture, lower back and hip pain, and even injuries. These muscles need to get a workout when you are standing and doing movements such as raising your leg to climb stairs, run, or ride a bicycle.