Low Back Pain Animation

This Low Back Pain Animation will help you quickly appreciate the difference between mechanical and compressive back pain.  Why is this important?  Because knowing how these types of low back pain differ can contribute to your understanding of your doctor’s diagnosis and recommended treatment plan.

Parts of the Low Back Affected
Your low back is called the lumbar spine.  There are 5 vertebral bodies (bones), discs between the vertebrae (intervertebral discs), nerve roots that branch off the end of the spinal cord (cauda equina), muscles, and ligaments.  Each component has a purpose.

  • Bones can be likened to sturdy blocks that give the spine height and strength.
  • Each disc fills the space between vertebral bodies, adds height, absorbs and disperses stresses, and is part of the spine’s motion segments (they help you bend forward and backwards, as well as twist).
  • Bones and intervertebral discs attach to strong ligaments that restrict excessive movement such as hyperflexion (too far forward) and hyperextension (too far backward).
  • Nerve roots branch off the spine and transmit signals of sensation (feeling) and function (eg, muscle movement) between your brain and the rest of your body. 

Mechanical Low Back Pain
The word mechanical can refer to a machine—something with stable and movable parts that respond to measurable physical forces.

Your lumbar spine is similar to a machine.  It supports your body, allows movement, and absorbs and distributes physical forces.  During static periods (when there is no movement) and active movement, the components of your low back are working.

Examples of mechanical low back pain:  A low back sprain and strain are types of mechanical problems.  Typically caused by falling down or minor accident, a ligament (sprain) or muscle (strain) can be over-stretched or torn causing sudden and severe pain—the parts of the “machine” of your low back are injured in mechanical low back pain.

Compressive Low Back Pain
Compressive spinal injuries are those caused when something presses on (compresses) nerve roots.  That “something” could be muscle inflammation or something serious, such as a pelvic fracture.

Example of compressive low back pain:  Sciatica is a catch-all term that describes a set of symptoms caused by compression of the sciatic nerve.  The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body.  The nerve originates in the left and right buttock and branches downward into the legs.  Sciatic pain varies but is often described as severe, unrelenting, and shock-like.  Other symptoms such as numbness and tingling may develop.

If you want to learn more about sciatica, try this article on sciatica causes.

When to See a Doctor for Low Back Pain
If your low back pain developed suddenly, is progressively getting worse, or simply won’t go away, it may be a good idea to visit your doctor.  Your doctor can diagnose the cause and recommend treatment to help you heal and feel better.

Updated on: 05/26/17