Back pain is a common health problem in many adults, as this can manifest in individuals aged 30 to 60 years. Discomfort or pain in the muscles of the back can be caused by muscle strain in the lower back or from within the spinal disc space itself, like in lumbar disc herniation or lumbar degenerative disc disease.
If you’re an adult suffering from back pain, it might help to know what’s causing the pain in the first place. Read on for a description of the typical symptoms and causes of back pain in younger adults.
- Severe or persistent pain in the lower back that starts after activity, sudden movement, or lifting a heavy object.
- The pain tends to be dull yet noticeable.
- The pain may cause difficulty in moving, walking, or standing.
- The pain moves around to the upper thigh, buttock, or groin, but rarely reaches below the knee.
- Muscle spasms may result.
- The area may be sore when touched.
Most common cause: back muscle strain
Health experts say that back muscle strain or ligament strain is one of the most common causes of acute lower back pain. Back muscle or ligament strain occurs when muscles or ligaments stretch or develop microscopic tears when you lift a heavy object, suddenly move, or even twist. With this type of back strain, the severity of the pain can range from mild discomfort to disabling pain, depending on the extent of the strain and the muscle spasms that result from the muscle strain.
- Back pain that moves to the buttock, leg, and foot (sciatica)
- Ongoing, persistent pain (as opposed to pain that flares up for a few days or weeks and then subsides)
- Pain is typically more severe and usually burns and tingles
- Pain that is worse in the leg and foot than in the lower back
- Pain may be accompanied by weakness, numbness, or difficulty moving the leg or foot
- Typically felt only on one side of the buttock or leg
- Pain that is worse after long periods of standing or sitting and is relieved when walking
Most common cause: lumbar herniated disc
Sciatica refers to the symptoms that result when a nerve root in the lower spine is compressed. This causes numbness and pain to travel along the large sciatic nerve, which also serves the buttocks, legs, and feet. In younger adults, sciatica is most commonly caused by a lumbar herniated disc but it can also be caused by other conditions such as isthmic spondylolisthesis, degenerative disc disease, and other conditions.
- Consistent pain in the lower back, worsened by episodes of severe pain or muscle spasms that last anywhere from a few days to a few months
- Chronic pain that can range from dull to severe
- Back pain that is worsened by sitting; walking or even running may feel better than sitting or standing
- Frequently changing position helps relieve pain
Most common cause: degenerative disc disease
Individuals as young as 20 can suffer from lumbar degenerative disc disease. This disease is the result of lumbar discs between the vertebrae breaking down and becoming inflamed. This causes slight instability in the lower back, which in turn brings pain, muscle spasms, and, occasionally, sciatica. The good news is that lumbar degenerative disc disease is fairly common and can often be successfully treated.
- Deep, insistent ache in the lower back that worsens when standing or walking
- The pain radiates into the buttocks and back of the thighs
- The pain worsens when bending backward
- The pain is alleviated when sitting, especially in a reclining position
- A tired feeling in the legs, possibly numbness or tingling, especially after walking
- Tight hamstrings (evident in the difficulty to touch the toes)
Most common cause: isthmic spondylolisthesis
Isthmic spondylolisthesis is the result of a vertebra in the low back slipping forward on the disc space below it. This condition most commonly occurs at the L5-S1 level and can cause pain in the lower back due to instability. Nerve root pain also occurs because of the compression of the nerve root. The fracture may occur in childhood, but will not normally create a noticeable amount of pain until the patient is a young adult.
- Pain in the lower back and/or buttocks or groin
- Pain is most accurately described as an ache
- Pain may radiate into the hips and thighs
- The pain is worse when sitting and may be eased when reclining or lying down
- Frequently changing positions may relieve the pain
Most common cause: sacroiliac joint disease
Disease or dysfunction in the sacroiliac joints can occur when there is too much or too little movement in the joints themselves. These joints connect the sacrum at the bottom of the spine to the hipbone on each side. Sacroiliac joint disease can be caused by a wide variety of conditions, including degenerative arthritis, pregnancy, and any condition that alters the normal walking pattern. Any disorder that affects the body’s joints, like gout, arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis, can also cause inflammation in the sacroiliac joints.
Keep in mind that the symptoms and causes of back pain described above are not ultimately conclusive. It’s still best to consult your physician if you feel any unusual pain in your lower back or in any other back muscle.