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What's causing your back pain?

Updated on May 6, 2009

A look from the back

A look from the back
A look from the back

1.Weak muscles

Weak muscles, caused by a lack of exercise, are the first major cause of most back pain. Looking at the overlapping muscles in the diagram above, you can see that the body acts as a unit. The lower torso is carried by the lower back muscles as well as the abdominal muscles. Likewise, the chest muscles, shoulder muscles and upper back muscles are carrying the upper torso.

It is important to strengthen and stretch the major back muscles, like the lats, traps and erector spinae as these support the spine.

An exercise programme needs to strengthen not only back muscles but also muscles in the front of the torso, the abdominal muscles in particular.

The abdominal muscles (often called the core muscles) help to support the spine and upper body. These are the internal and external obliques (that rundown the side of your waist), the rectus abdominus, that run down the middle of your abdomen (giving you a six-pack if you’re lean).

2.Lack of flexibility in the back muscles

A poor range of movement, also caused by inactivity, can result in back pain when you perform a movement outside of your normal range of motion. So for example if your lower back muscles are tight and you make a sudden twisting motion, you can strain those muscles. You need to stretch the muscles of the back to increase your range of motion.

3.Tight muscles in the legs, chest and shoulders

Once again, because the body is a unit, you also need to stretch connected muscles. The hamstring muscles and gluteal muscles, if tight, can cause rounding of the lower back, with associated back pain. Stiff shoulder muscles will likely cause neck and upper back pain. Tight chest muscles pull on the shoulder and will also likely cause neck and shoulder pain.

4.Poor posture

The main impact of poor posture on the back is whilst sitting. This means sitting at your desk, the couch or driving your car. Poor posture while standing or walking will also affect your back. If you round your shoulders when you stand or walk, this will lead to upper back pain.

5.Moving your body incorrectly

A common way of pulling and straining back muscles is whilst picking up objects. I’ve done that a few times, as I’m sure most of you reading this have too. When picking up objects, the legs should take the weight, and should bend, not the back. Everyday actions like getting into and out of a car or sitting down in a chair are also important to be aware of. Twisting your body when you get into or out of a car can strain your back.


Being overweight puts an undue strain on the back. Overweight people are also usually less flexible, with a smaller range of motion, so that sudden movements are more likely to cause strains and pain.

7.Medical problems

Below are some of the most common complaints, with a brief explanation of each. In all cases, whenever pain is severe or persistent after several days, consult a doctor. If the pain is so severe that you can’t sleep or wake up at night, then you need to see your doctor. In addition, any pain that you feel after an accident needs medical attention.


The sciatic nerve, the longest in the body, when under pressure, will be felt as pain down the buttocks, down the back of the thighs and even into the feet. The pressure on the nerve is often casued by inflammation of the vertebrae joints. The root causes are incorrect posture while sitting, poor posture when lifting objects and weak muscles that are subjected to sudden strenuous activities.

Thoracic kyphosis

The thoracic section of the spine is excessively curved, giving a humpback. The shoulders are rounded and the head droops forward. Often effects elderly women. Because of the contraction of the chest, breathing is more difficult. This condition can be caused by osteoporosis. The most common cause is poor posture and weak muscles.

Chronic low back pain

Most often, the lumbar vertebrae commonly are compressed and the joints become inflamed. The lower back is most susceptible to pain as the lumbar region carries the weight of the body. Weak abdominal and lower back muscles mean that shape of the spine in lumbar region will often be wrong. Over time, this leads to inflammation. Other common causes are incorrect posture when lifting. If you bend your lower back, for example, when lifting up a heavy object, instead of using your legs, the muscles will become strained.


A condition of weakened bones, where calcium and bone fibres leech into the blood. The bones are less dense and fracture easily. A balance diet and exercise can help to prevent the condition. Loss of estrogen, which prevents the condition, in post-menopause, can also lead to the onset of the condition. Your doctor can do a bone density scan and provide medication such as hormone replacement therapy, for post-menopausal women.


Commonly affects people over 40, but not uncommon in younger people. Cartilage, which acts as a cushion between bones at joints, is lost. As a result, the bones grate together, causing pain and damage to the bone. Your doctor will use and x-ray or MRI scanner to diagnose you. He/she will give you medication for treatment of the pain. Exercise and posture are vital to improving your condition, so I encourage you to use this book.

Prolapsed disc

Between two vertebrae of the spine is an invertebral disc which contains a core of gelatinous fluid. When this core protrudes from its covering, it puts pressure on the nerves. If it puts pressure on the spinal cord, acute pain will be felt.

What's the solution?

Posture and exercise

In most of the conditions mentioned, exercise and posture play an important preventative role as well as in recovery and rehabilitation.

If you feel little or no back pain, exercises to strengthen and stretch the abdominal and back muscles will largely prevent painful conditions developing.


Andrew de Bruyn is the author of "Build your Back, Beat the Pain"-a step-by-step exercise guide that anyone can follow.


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    • profile image

      beautycolor 18 months ago

      great article and it very helpful

    • FirstStepsFitness profile image

      FirstStepsFitness 7 years ago

      Welcome to HubPages ! Well written with some very good tips to alleviate most lower back discomfort :)

    • profile image

      charlotte chiropractor kinesiology 8 years ago

      Gald to see that porr posture was included. Often overlooked.