Is this what’s causing your back pain?

The common triggers notorious for causing back aches and pains.

Is this what’s causing your back pain?

Putting up with twinges or aches in our backs seems to just be part of life for many people. Back pain is very common, around one in three of us get it every year, according to research, with the lower back being most affected.

While many people resort to over-the-counter painkillers, or a trip to the chiropractor when the pain becomes unmanageable, chiropractor Dr Christian Allard says it’s important to understand the causes rather than just treat the symptoms.

“People will treat the pain rather than the problem,” he says, “and it’s rare that people act on it straight away. They say, ‘It will pass, it will pass.’ When it doesn’t – two, three, four weeks later – that’s when they start to take some action. But at that point, there’s already damage.”

Here, Dr Allard shares the common cause of back pain.

1. Your age
What causes your back pain often depends on your age, and as people get older, the pain tends to become more severe.

“A young person usually has pain caused by a joint, or they’ll have pulled a muscle,” he says. “While an older person in their mid-50s or early 60s will be more likely to have a disc that’s degenerated. And eventually, later on in life, because the spine has no more suspension, it becomes a bone pain. Like a toothache you feel inside your spine.”

2. Discs, not muscles
“When people come to see me, they often say, ‘Oh, it’s muscular’. It’s actually really rare that it’s just muscles, unless it’s a young person. Usually it’ll be a combination of things, joints and muscles and, very often, discs.”

3. An injury
“Most people I see in their mid-20s up to 50s will have one episode in their life where they’ll have hurt themselves, like skiing or football,” Dr Allard says. “After that one episode they’ll start to tear discs. It could be dormant, sometimes for 10, 15, 20 years, but once the pain starts, it doesn’t go away. At this point, there’s a lot of damage that has already happened.”

He adds: “The outer third of the discs is the only part where you’ll feel pain, you could have cracks in the inner part of the disc and not feel it. So pain is not necessarily a good indicator.”

4. Long hours spent sitting
In the inner part each of the discs in our spine there’s liquid made up of water and a substance called proteoglycan. “This is the food for the cartilage,” Dr Allard explains. “Little cells in the end plates secrete the liquid but they’ll only be activated if there’s movement between the vertebrae. So, therefore, if someone is sitting down on a chair for eight hours a day, the body will not feel the need to secrete the liquid into the discs – the discs will starve themselves.

“The body will adapt to make the cartilage weaker, because it doesn’t need to be strong because it doesn’t move much. Then when a person moves more on the weekend, and does something active like gardening, it puts them at risk of injury because they now have weaker discs – that’s why moving enough, all the time, is so important.”

5. A bad seated posture
“When somebody sits, they need to have a good lumbar curve (an inward curve in the lower back). If someone sits down at their desk and they slouch, then that curves disappears, their spine becomes straighter and they absorb less shock when they get up and move about. I always tell people to sit at the back of the chair, and make sure you’ve got a good lumbar support in the chair, so you can stick your bum out a bit.”

6. Your psoas muscle isn’t strong enough
Dr Allard says not many people know about the psoas muscle, which connects to the spine. “If you sit for a long period of time, the psoas muscle shortens and when you get up, your vertebrae pull forward. It often happens when people sit in a car for a long time – you might feel slightly bent forward when you get out, and the first couple of steps you take are shorter. The psoas crosses the joint of the hip, so if it’s too tight for a long time, it will make the hips wear too fast.”

Stretch the psoas with a hip flexor – spread your legs and stretch your hips by pulling the knee forward and then down.

7. Your mattress
“A mattress has to be firm enough but not too firm,” says Dr Allard. “If a mattress is super hard you might end up with shoulder problems if you sleep on your side, or lower back problems if you sleep on your back. You need something that takes the shape of your body but doesn’t let you sink in. I’m a big fan of anything that’s made with natural materials – like latex mattresses.”

Risk factors
Here are some factors that may put you at greater risk of developing back pain.

Being overweight – excess body weight puts extra stress on your back.
Not enough exercise – weak, unused core muscles may increase your chances of experiencing back pain.
Age – unfortunately back pain is more common as you age.
Improper lifting – always use safe lifting techniques.
Smoking – nicotine reduces blood flow and promotes inflammation in the body.

What should I do if I have back pain?
Keep active as much as possible. Current evidence suggests that encouraging early movement and mobility is crucial to a speedy recovery from back pain. Early movement reduces the likelihood of muscular spasm, further joint stiffness or associated muscular weakness. It is recommended that you continue with your normal routine, completing tasks slower or more carefully, if required.

Should I exercise?
When you feel up to it, exercises to strengthen the core muscles are encouraged to help prevent further back pain in the future.

Walking, even for short periods, is great for keeping the spine moving. Generally, the only activities that should be reduced are tasks that may be repetitive and below knee height. Constant and repetitive bending does place an increased load through the low back over a prolonged period.

Most cases of back pain can be relieved using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).

Your back is a complex structure made up of bones, muscles, nerves and joints, so pinpointing the exact cause of the pain is often difficult.

Do you suffer from back pain? How do you find relief?

– With PA

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    Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.


    To make a comment, please register or login
    30th Jul 2020
    In my late 60's, I have always been blessed with a good back. Never a problem. However, about 6 weeks ago, I began waking up with a really sore back. Could not even get down to put on shoes, or tie up my runners. Of course, gave the usual excuses - age, slept funny, too much heavy work around the house, etc. But by late after noon, this pain/ache seemed to ease.
    So thought it could be my mattress. Yes, it was a few years old, so did online search and research. Settled on a mattress I had never heard of - delivered rolled up in a box. Had my doubts - but first night I slept on it - could not believe the difference! Within a day, my back ache had totally disappeared, not even a twinge. I have had the mattress a week now, and have never slept better. Completely happy.
    30th Jul 2020
    I suffer from backache as well, so just want to know, the website where you got your mattress, please. Bought a new matter in late Novembef, but not happy with it. Thanks.
    30th Jul 2020
    That is so interesting, sometimes we forget we have to replace mattresses, they are so important because we spend so much time on them. I have always slept on futons and it reminds me mine is due for an upgrade, getting a little compacted too much.
    30th Jul 2020
    I’ve had a water bed for nearly 40 years and find it really comfortable and supportive.
    30th Jul 2020
    So, 'Older and Wiser' what are the details of this magical mattress? Are you on a percentage?(Sorry i had to ask that).
    30th Jul 2020
    I found that using Alexander Techniques help a lot, and one is to lie on your back on the floor with two books under your head and with your feet flat slide them up towards your bottom so your knees are pointing towards the ceiling. You can feel the parts that are out of alignment but relax as much as possible and lie for about 20 minutes (you can work up to that time). Do this once or twice a day. Read up on the Alexander technique it is fascinating stuff, we tend to tense our bodies up at various times and then get into bad habits with posture,sitting, standing and walking.
    30th Jul 2020
    I would say from my own experience, don't assume or make a self diagnosis. If the pain gets extreme see a specialist. I went from a dull ache in my left butt to near paralysis of the lower half of my body and extreme painwithin a month. Early on in this period I went to a physio who diagnosed it as a hamstring injury which my GP concurred. The pain and disability increased so I visited another physio who insisted on a scan and wrote to my GP suggesting possible spinal damage. A week later I was in hospital having my spine drilled into by a neuro-surgeon to have a cyst removed which had grown into my spinal cord. I was told if I had waited longer I could have been in a wheelchair for life. So be sure you find out what the real problem is.
    30th Jul 2020
    Yes if pain persists it is a good idea, but always a good idea to get second and third opinions. I would say your case is quite rare though.
    31st Jul 2020
    I have scoliosis of the spine, together with injuries to the top and bottom of it from accidents so have great trouble getting comfy in bed. However, sitting up and moving are much better. Am writing this in the early hours because of a bad night’s sleep but will not take strong pain killers, just occasional Celebrex for a couple of days at a time. Am in a lifestyle village with a heated 25 metre indoor pool so can exercise and walk too.
    My husband has had a laminectomy (fusion) to several vertebrae at the top of his spine and had an accident at work that hurt the lower part of his spine, so therefore we are a couple of ‘walking wounded’. Very interesting article.
    3rd Aug 2020
    I had light lower back pain together with my right hip. Then for three months I suffered from Sciatic Nerve Pain in my right leg which was excruciating. My doctor prescribed Voltarin tablets, then Celebrex, but neither worked. I heard a doctor on Radio 2GB one Sunday night and he suggested using BIOGLAN DOUBLE STRENGTH CURCUMIN tablets, taking only one per day after eating. I had to cease taking the other two tablets. Within two days after taking the CURCUMIN tablets, the total pains in my right leg and right hip absolutely ceased. It was like a miracle, and the pains in my leg have completely stopped.
    The CURCUMIN is an anti-inflammatory and I would recommend it to anyone. If people are already taking other tablets they should talk to their doctor first.
    3rd Aug 2020
    So good to hear a natural remedy can work for some, some people may get reflux from some Curcumin tablets, so maybe start slow and see how it goes. Have you had to stay on them or have you stopped after one bottle?
    3rd Aug 2020
    Agree Erin and Incognito. I started taking turmeric the source of curcumin, several years ago after a bowel cancer scare. It seems to have numerous health benefits because not only did I dodge the 'C' but some months after I started, my GP remarked how my prostate PSA had dropped significantly. You can buy various turmeric/curcumin capsules from a pharmacy and the powder in supermarkets and add it to food eg rice, curry, bolognese, stews and soups. We also grow it in our garden. Its has beautiful flowers and foliage, the root looks similar to ginger to which it is related. Some experts claim it's most effective in food (with pepper and oil) rather than capsules but both seem effective.
    3rd Aug 2020
    That is great news Viking, love to hear how others beat health issues. I great turmeric and ginger into my big bowl of salad I have for lunch everyday. Not sure I beleive the pepper and oil thing, oil is fat and not good for liver and pepper can irritate the stomach lining. I don't think there is enough evidence you need the pepper.

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