What Causes Lumbar Pain?

Low-back pain is the primary reason for doctor visits in the United States today. While it can be debilitating and frustrating, it is important to understand that symptoms associated with low-back pain are caused by a specific problem within the lumbar spine.

Low Back Pain Causes

Much like the symptoms associated with lumbar pain, its causes can vary depending on the condition that is present. From problems with the muscles and ligaments surrounding the lumbar spine to damage to the vertebrae or intervertebral lumbar discs, understanding low-back pain causes is crucial to properly diagnosing and effectively treating them.

Lumbar Pain Causes

The potential causes of lumbar pain are many, but low-back pain is a very common complaint for a simple reason. Since the lumbar spine is connected to the pelvis, this is where most of the body’s weight bearing and movement takes place. Typically, this is also where people tend to place too much pressure, such as when lifting a heavy box, twisting to move a heavy load, or carrying a heavy object. These activities can cause repetitive injuries that can cause damage to and pain in the low-back.

Bulging Disc

A common cause of low-back pain in older and younger adults is the bulging disc. This condition involves one or more of the discs between the lumbar vertebrae that swell outside of the normal space they should occupy. While a bulging disc may not always cause lumbar pain, in severe cases it can bulge so much that it presses on surrounding nerves or results in a narrowing of the spinal canal. When this occurs, it causes lumbar pain symptoms in whichever part of the body is served by the nerve that the bulging disc is pressing on.

Lumbar Compression

Lumbar compression involves any condition causing pressure on the low-back, its associated nerves and the delicate spinal cord. Common compression conditions that can cause low-back pain include arthritis, osteoarthritis, abnormal spinal alignment, spine trauma, spinal tumors, bone diseases and rare spinal infections. Severe lumbar compression is characterized by a loss of normal function in the lower extremities because the portion of the spinal cord within the low-back is being compressed or “squeezed”.  Depending on the nature of the injury, compression can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal. This squeezing of the spinal cord in the lumbar spine can cause low-back pain symptoms including general pain, weakness or numbness in the lower extremities.

Herniated Disc

When a herniated disc is to blame for pain in the low-back it is typically caused by an injury to the spine or daily wear and tear of the disc. The vertebrae (bones in the spine) are cushioned by small spongy discs, which help to absorb shock and keep the spine flexible. When these discs are damaged, they may bulge or break open (herniate), causing pain in the lumbar spine. Most herniated discs affect the lower part of the spine, but can also affect the neck and upper back.

Lumbar Stenosis

Lumbar spinal stenosis, is a common cause of low-back pain. This condition involves the narrowing of the spinal canal in the neck area or upper part of the spine. The narrowing of the spinal canal in the lumbar spine causes pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerve branches. Often, lumbar stenosis in the low-back causes pain symptoms only when the nerves or spinal cord become squeezed. Patients who experience this condition often complain of pain in the low-back that seems to radiate down one or both legs and is worsened by prolonged activity.

Collapsed Disc

Another in the category of degenerative lumbar spine conditions, a collapsed disc can cause low-back pain as the result of a breakdown in the normal structure of the disc between the vertebrae in the lumbar spine. When a disc collapses, it can cause a domino effect of other surrounding vertebrae to painfully rub together. As is the case with bulging discs, the collapsed disc can put pressure on the nerves, the likeliest cause of the low-back pain symptoms that are being experienced.

Degenerative Disc Disease

Though disc degeneration is a normal part of aging, it can cause chronic and severe lumbar pain in some people. Low back pain caused by degenerative disc disease may radiate into the hips, buttocks or thighs. Over time, the cushions (discs) between the vertebrae in the low-back begin to wear out and the bones themselves can become irregular. From this irregularity, the vertebrae can develop bone spurs that may limit the space between the vertebrae, thus pinching on surrounding nerve roots. As degenerative disc disease progresses, the low-back becomes less flexible, resulting in pain and stiffness.

Pinched Nerve

A pinched nerve in the low-back is medically referred to as lumbar radiculopathy.  Lumbar pain caused by a pinched nerve occurs when a lumbar disc becomes herniated or otherwise damaged and the associated pain radiates along the course of the spinal nerve and into a lower extremity.


Arthritis is a general medical term used to describe more than 100 different subtypes involving damage to and pain in the joints. Most cases of arthritis arise out of the larger joints in the body, like the knee or the hip but it can very easily and painfully affect the lumbar spine, causing pain and a breakdown of the spinal joints.


The most common cause of arthritis, this osteoarthritis in the lumbar spine involves wear and tear on the spinal joints as a result of aging or particularly hard use. Lumbar pain caused by osteoarthritis is the result of wearing down of the discs between the lumbar vertebrae.

Prior Lumbar Fusion Surgery

Unfortunately, attempts to correct low-back pain causes and conditions do not result in complete resolution of the pain. When this is the case, it can be frustrating for patient and physician alike. While prior lumbar fusion isn’t necessarily the primary cause of lumbar pain, it is still one of the associated symptoms of low-back pain.

No matter the cause of the lumbar pain, no one should believe they have to just “live with it.” If you or someone you know needs help in getting to the bottom of what is causing their low-back pain, the expert team at BASIC has the vast experience, advanced-training and specialty qualifications to help.

Health Tips For Low Back

  • Exercise daily – it helps reduce inflammation & muscle tension
  • Maintain a healthy body weight – extra pounds can make back pain worse
  • Quit smoking – it seriously restricts nutrient rich blood flow to the spinal discs
  • Sleep right – sleeping on your stomach can be hard on your lower back

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