Overview of Low Back Pain
Back pain is one of the most common conditions. Any number of problems can cause low back pain, from muscle spasms, to cancer and other serious conditions. The lower back is made up of three elements: the vertebrae, the discs that separate each vertebrae, and the muscles and ligaments that hold the back together and allow movement. In the lower back, the lumbar vertebral bodies are joined to one another by two kinds of joints, the discs and the facet joints. The discs are composed of a gelatinous material that cushions the vertebrae.
During aging, the disc material begins to dry up and becomes less effective and the capsules that contain the material may begin to leak. As the disc material bulges out, it may press on nerves, causing back pain and pain in the lower extremities.
The facet joints are located on both sides of the vertebra and interlock, similar to the way shingles on a roof do. This interlocking design helps to stabilize the spine. Mechanical function of these joints deteriorates with age. As the facet joints begin to degenerate and narrow, pain and limitation of motion results.
When the discs fail to absorb stress, the impact is absorbed by other structures and more joint degeneration occurs. The space that had existed between the ends of the two vertebrae begins to narrow considerably and, in time, the entire canal may be so seriously compromised that spinal stenosis occurs. Spinal stenosis is another cause of low back pain, usually in the elderly or in patients who have had back surgery. Pain from this condition may occur in the back of the legs on both sides and may increase in severity upon exertion.
Patients who experience severe or persistent back pain should contact their physician.