Is Your Low Back Pain Mechanical?

Low back pain, and lower lumbar spine pain are common—it’s the number one cause of disability worldwide. Nearly 80% of the population will experience at least one disabling episode of low back pain. There are many causes of low back pain, but lumbar spine pain can be categorized as being either organic or mechanical. What’s the difference and why is the answer noteworthy to someone with low back pain? Continue reading.

  • Organic pain can be caused by disease, such as spinal cancer or aortic aneurism.
  • Mechanical means the spine receives forces that damage tissues resulting in pain.

 High Angle View Of Two Male Movers Carrying a Sofa up a StaircaseChronic low back pain can be better described as multiple acute spinal micro trauma(s) that accumulate throughout the day. Photo Source:

How Can Low Back Pain Develop?

Trauma is the answer—it can be major or minor. Major trauma is easily identifiable and includes slips and falls, sports-related injuries, or car accidents. However, minor traumas, which include those that are repetitive (eg, overuse injuries), are harder to recognize. Minor traumas include physical movements, postures and loads placed on the spine in ways causing tissue damage that eventually may cause pain. The vast majority of low back pain patients are suffering this fate.

How Low Back Pain May Become Chronic

Chronic low back pain can be better described as multiple acute spinal micro trauma(s) that accumulate throughout the day. The damaged tissues become sensitized and small movements can create pain that may become more intense and longer lasting. It’s like hitting your thumb with a hammer. Once your thumb is sensitized, it only takes a slight bump to cause more pain. If your thumb is never allowed to heal, the pain continues to worsen. That scenario is the same for patients with chronic low back pain. Everyday movements, postures and loads matter!

Movement-Related Low Back Pain

The answer may be as simple as evaluating your movements and correcting flawed movement patterns. Mark is an example. Mark presented with chronic low back pain and a disc bulge in his right L4 area (the disc in the fourth vertebral level of the spine).

Mark reported he has no pain radiating (traveling) down either leg. However, he slouches when sitting, which demonstrates his poor posture. When Mark gets up, he leans forward flexing his spine. Then, when he takes his shoes off, he flexes his spine again. His work involves bending forward and rotating his body to the left to work on a specific machine. Plus, Mark frequently looks down at his smartphone, again flexing his spine. His symptoms are worse by the end of the day.

Mark has been doing forward bending (flexion) exercises and stretches out his tight hamstrings. Mark’s treatment includes pain medications, physical therapy, and home-based stretching. But he’s not getting better. Mark hasn’t been taught how to move correctly, which includes sitting, standing, lying down, getting up, and rolling over. If the forces of these improperly performed movements cause or contribute to his low back pain, then any treatment may prove to be ineffective if Mark continues to move in ways that aggravate his spine.

Movement Matters to Relieve Low Back Pain

Learning how to move properly is essential to relieve and manage low back pain. The next time you see your doctor about your chronic low back pain, ask about how you can learn proper lumbar spinal mechanics and apply those movement and posture principals every day. You will be amazed at how quickly low back pain can diminish and resolve.

Updated on: 08/27/19
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