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Nearly every adult suffers lower back pain sooner or later. Recognizing back pain triggers, however, can help you stop back pain before it starts.

Weekend warriors of all descriptions are especially at risk for lower back pain. Whether it's waiting until Saturday or Sunday to tackle home and garden chores, playing a competitive sport against younger people, or hitting the gym a little too hard, tens of millions of adults, usually in their 30's or 40's, suffer lower back pain every year. Recently published scientific research suggests that many disabling bouts of lower back pain can be prevented if people simply recognize back pain triggers and avoid them.

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What Causes Lower Back Pain?

"Throwing out your back" is the second most common reason for seeing a physician in the United States.  About 85 percent of Americans suffer severe low back pain at some point in their adult lives. Back injuries are the leading cause of disability among Americans under the age of 45.

Why do most people sooner or later suffer lower back pain? Unlike other primates, we humans walk around upright. This puts the force of gravity on the spinal column, which consists of 22 disks stacked on top of each other like the floors of a tall building. When we start to put on a little (or a lot of) extra belly fat, those disks are stressed.  In people who do hard physical labor to earn their livelihoods, the bundles of collagen fibers inside a disk may suffer repeated injury, or the "plate" at the end of a disk that holds it in place may simply wear out. In "weekend warriors," there may be a traumatic injury that causes a herniated disk, a disk that has injury inside. Because of the way we bend our backs, these kinds of injuries tend to occur at two locations in the lower back, known as the lumbar spine. 

Back pain can be caused by osteoporosis, by deterioration of the collagen in the disks, and by narrowing of the spinal column, known as spinal stenosis. About 70 percent of cases, however, are due to strain or sprain of the part of the backbone known as the lumbar spine. These 70 percent of cases may be preventable.

Tracking Down The Causes Of Lower Back Pain

An Australian physical therapist named Daniel Steffens, of the University of Sydney, led a study that recruited 999 lower back pain sufferers to identify possible sources of back pain to which they had been exposed in the 96 hours before their back pain episodes. Steffens and his colleagues asked about 12 modifiable causes of back pain that had been previously identified in the Australian Code of Practice.

The physical causes of back pain queried in the study included "heavy load; awkward positioning; handling of objects far from the body; handling people or animals and unstable loading; a slip, trip, or fall; engagement in moderate or vigorous physical activity; and sexual activity." The intangible causes of back pain about which patients were asked included alcohol use, fatigue, and distraction. Each patient was contacted by telephone within seven days of going to the doctor for treatment, and the researchers followed a script in asking questions about possible triggers.

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