While back pain is extremely common in both sexes, men are more likely to report experiencing lower back pain than women. Lower back pain is pain that originates in the lumbar or sacral regions of the spine. Conversely, women are more likely than men to report back pain in the thoracic (middle) or cervical (upper) regions of the spine. Overall, however, lower back pain is much more common than upper back pain in both sexes. More than 75% of people will experience some form of back pain over the duration of their life, whether it is acute back pain or chronic back pain.
Lower back pain can originate from several different types of injuries. Straining a muscle in the lower back due to heavy lifting or a sports injury, for example, can lead to acute lower back pain that lasts until the injury heals. Structures that have been injured may be prone to reinjury if a person does not take steps to avoid this. Preventative measures include using proper lifting technique and properly warming up and cooling down before and after strenuous exercise. Proper lifting involves keeping the spine in a straight position and using the leg muscles to lift a heavy object. Bending the spine can put stress on the spinal column and potentially damage muscles or ligaments in the spine. Stretching the back muscles properly before exercise also makes them more flexible and less prone to injury.
Another cause of lower back pain is compression of the spinal nerve roots that come out of the spinal cord and innervate muscles and supply sensation in the lower part of the body. When a spinal nerve root is compressed, lower back pain may result. Other symptoms may result from nerve compression, such as muscle weakness, tingling or numbness. The symptoms are only experienced in the parts of the body that the compressed nerve supplies, because the spinal nerve root has already left the spinal cord. This is in contrast to paralysis due to spinal cord injury, which affects all parts of the body below the damaged part of the spinal cord.
Spinal nerve root compression can be caused by a variety of conditions, such as: a herniated vertebral disc, arthritis that affects the vertebrae of the lower back, vertebral fractures, abnormal spinal curvatures such as scoliosis, a vertebral defect called spondylolysis and spinal stenosis. A herniated vertebral disc occurs when the inside of an intervertebral disc, a shock-absorbing pad of connective tissue between the vertebrae of the spine, pushes through the outer ring of the disc, protruding outwards. The most common type of arthritis that affects the spine is osteoarthritis. Most cases of scoliosis do not cause spinal nerve root compression, but severe abnormal curvatures can cause pain for this reason. Spondylolysis causes the vertebrae to slide in an abnormal way; when this happens, a spinal nerve root may be pinched. Spinal stenosis occurs when the canal in the vertebrae that the spinal cord passes through narrows due to age-related degeneration.
Some less common conditions that can cause lower back pain include: compression fractures of vertebrae due to advanced osteoporosis, osteomyelitis (bone infection) of the vertebrae, a rare type of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis, spinal tumors, a bone growth disorder called Paget’s disease and a spinal deformity called Scheuermann’s disease. It is important to note that men can suffer from osteoporosis, but the condition is most common in postmenopausal women. Some conditions may also produce pain that may be confused with back pain. Examples of conditions that may mimic lower back pain include: kidney stones, urinary tract infections, inflammation of the prostate gland and gall bladder stones.
One survey in 2004 found that men and women are likely to report that their lower back pain originated from different sources. Men were more likely to say that they injured their back at work, while women were more likely to say that they injured their back doing chores. Men and women who hurt their back during physical activity reported that their injuries were sustained while playing different sports. In this survey, men were most likely to say that they hurt their back lifting weights or playing sports such as football, golf and basketball. Women most often said they injured their back playing tennis, running and lifting weights.
In most cases, the best treatment for back pain is rest and prevention of reinjury. Quitting smoking and losing weight can also help, as can heating pads, over-the-counter pain medication and massage. However, if you are experiencing back pain of unknown cause or back pain that is severe or persistent, seek medical attention. A doctor can help diagnose the cause of your back pain and develop a pain management and treatment program.