Common Causes of Lower Back Pain (and How to Prevent Them)

Roughly 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at one time or another, making it the third most burdensome condition among Americans according to the Global Burden of Disease 2010 study.

Thankfully, most lower back pain is “acute” – or short-term – lasting only a few days or weeks. This type of pain typically comes from strain on the lower back muscles after repetitive motion or heavy lifting, and symptoms can be relieved with rest, ice and an NSAID like Ibuprofen.

But when pain does not subside after more than 12 weeks, it’s considered chronic. Around 20 percent of those affected by acute lower back pain develop chronic lower back pain. Whether short-term or chronic, here are some of the most common causes of lower back pain, and ways to prevent or address them:

A sudden increase in activity: Spring cleaning, gardening and other outdoor activities have made many of us more active than we were over the winter. This sudden shift in activity level can make for sore muscles throughout the body – especially the lower back. If you’ve been sedentary and are inspired to get moving, take a measured approach. Limit your period of exertion to 10-20 minutes the first few times and build up your strength and endurance over time. If you are working in the yard or the house, take care to use tools and postures that support the body like lifting with your legs,and using a knee pad in the garden,rather than bending from a standing position.

Sitting too long or the wrong way: Even if your activity levels are relatively consistent, lower back pain can also come from poor posture and sitting too long in one position, such as at a desk or on a long flight or car ride. If you’re sitting at home or the office, you have many options to minimize or eliminate lower back pain. Start by sitting up straight and keeping your feet flat on the floor – good posture can go a long way to alleviate pain.

If you are accustomed to slouching, you’ll find that good posture takes practice and strength over time as you learn to engage your core and back muscles. You can also sit on an exercise ball or stand as both require you to engage your muscles to stay balanced. Standing desks are more popular and affordable than ever and many are adjustable from sitting to standing so you can take breaks as your body gets accustomed to the change.

If you’re riding in a car or a plane, use a lumbar support. Many cars have seat settings for the lumbar area, but planes obviously do not. Rolling up a small towel or your jacket can provide the same benefit: simply place it at the small of the back, near your belt level.

 Lack of Fitness: Back pain is more common among those who are not physically fit, particularly if they are carrying any extra weight. Excess bodyweight puts more stress on the back,and weak core muscles cannot counterbalance that weight to support the spine. In other words, mind your bodyweight and focus on building core strength. Our team of specialists recommends exercises to strengthen your core and back. The stronger your body overall, the more you can support your spine, and the better your back will feel.

Carrying too large a load: Whether you carry a backpack, briefcase, messenger bag, purse or even a baby, the weight of your load and how you carry it can cause or prevent lower back pain. Heavy loads strain the back and fatigue muscles, so be mindful not to overload backpacks and bags – especially for children. Wearing any type of bag on a single shoulder puts the spine out of balance, which can exacerbate the problem. Holding a child on one arm or hip has a similar effect. Instead, look for a bag or baby carrier that allows you to center the weight across your back or core.

Injury and disease:Back pain can also be related to degenerative diseases like arthritis, trauma, and disk injuries like bulging or ruptured (herniated) disks which can also lead tosciatica (when the herniated disc presses on the sciatic nerve, often causing additional pain in the legs and feet). If you have chronic lower back pain and have tried tactics to relive the pain,but still don’t have relief, it’s time to see an orthopedic spine doctor.A number of problems can change the structure of the spine or damage the vertebrae and surrounding tissue. Understanding the cause of your back pain is the key to proper treatment.

The highly qualified neck and spine orthopedic surgeons and physiatrists at Advanced Orthopedic & Sports Medicine have expertise in non-surgical spine care using conservative comprehensive care. Physical therapy, interventional spine care, and injections are among the most common. If spine surgery is necessary, our board-certified spine surgeon has advanced training in lower back procedures to help you overcome pain and live an active life. Learn more:

Best Lower Back Pain Specialists

Michael Shen, MD

Dr. Michael Shen

Christopher D'Ambrosia, MD

Dr. Christopher D’Ambrosia

Carpal Tunnel Surgery

Don’t let your hand go numb when your yard goes green: Carpal tunnel symptoms

As things green up and it feels safe to turn on the sprinklers, May in Colorado brings warm days, beautiful budding trees and plants…and an outdoor to-do list longer than the checkout line at Home Depot.

From gardening and raking to painting and cleaning, many of the most common spring maintenance tasks require the repetitive motions that can lead to hand, finger and/or thumb numbness and pain known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Hand doctors see more than 3 million cases of carpal tunnel syndrome in the US every year and many visits are related to repetitive use of hands and wrists.

The repetitive motion in your hand and wrist creates tension or pressure across the median nerve which controls the feeling and movement in your thumb and fingers. Compression of this nerve, known as carpal tunnel syndrome often presents with symptoms like numbness, tingling, weakness and pain in the hand, fingers and/or thumb.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms for the first time, consider the activities you’re doing repeatedly that might be causing the pain – especially if you haven’t done that type of work for some time. Repeatedly squeezing clippers or garden shears, raking, sweeping and painting are all common examples.

If you’re just getting started with spring chores, try to break up continuous periods of activity to prevent pain and other symptoms. If you already have symptoms,it’s probably time for a breakto give your muscles, tendons and nerves a chance to rest and repair. If persistent or worsening, be sure to have your symptoms evaluated. Without treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome can weaken your thumb and fingers and reduce coordination.

If you start to experience symptoms, stop the repetitive activity and ice your hand and wrist for 10-15 minutes every couple of hours. You can also take anon-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen to relieve the pain. It may take a few weeks to recover and be pain free and if you don’t see an improvement in that time frame (after stopping the activities that caused the pain in the first place), it’s time to see an orthopedic physician who specializes in hand and wrist injuries, including carpal tunnel.

A qualified hand doctor can recommend the right combination of evaluation and treatment for your situation and lifestyle.

The sooner you are diagnosed, the better chances you have to stop your pain and prevent any long-term damage. A hand doctor will evaluate your individual situation via a physical exam, x-rays if needed, and recommend a treatment program for recovery. In mild cases of carpal tunnel syndrome, resting and using a brace – even just at night – can relieve symptoms.

For more serious cases, steroid injections may alleviate the tingling and pain, or surgery can be considered. It’s important not to wait too long before seeing a doctor to determine the severity of your carpal tunnel syndrome in case surgery is needed. If the median nerve is compressed for too long, damage to the nerve – and the pain or numbness that goes with it – can be permanent.

Carpal tunnel surgery to release the pressure on the nerve is relatively simple and quick procedure that can be done on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic. Most patients can return to their normal activities in a matter of days.

For diagnosis and treatment of hand and wrist pain, see an Advanced Orthopedic hand doctor at our Denver or Parker location. Call for an appointment (303) 344-9090.

Best Hand Surgeons

A. Todd Alijani, MD

Dr. Todd Alijani

Davis Hurley, MD

Dr. Davis Hurley

Dr. Micah Worrell

Dr. Micah Worrell