Here's What It Really Means When You Have Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain affects more than 31 million people in the U.S., reports the American Chiropractic Association (ACA). From children and teens to seniors, anyone can experience this problem. Lifestyle habits, such as prolonged sitting or standing, can worsen your symptoms and lead to chronic back pain. In some cases, the pain is due to a herniated disc, spinal stenosis, or muscle strain, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

The severity of your symptoms depends on what caused them in the first place. Generally, acute back pain subsides within three months, according to a 2003 review published in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization. Its causes range from osteoporosis to back injuries.

Chronic pain, on the other hand, lasts three months or longer and may not respond to treatment, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, which also notes that about 20% of people with acute back pain develop chronic pain.

The good news is, you can take the steps needed to prevent this condition and keep it from getting worse. But first, it's important to understand its causes. While it's possible to have an underlying disease that makes your back hurt, most cases of back pain are due to mechanical factors, such as poor posture, an accident, or injury (via ACA).

Prolonged sitting may cause or worsen lower back pain

Whether you work from home or spend hours in the office, you may have noticed that your back hurts more than usual. The human body is designed to move, points out the American Council on Exercise. Sitting for long periods can affect your spine and joints, weaken your muscles, and contribute to chronic diseases.

This habit is a major cause of back pain. As Dr. Steven J. Atlas told Harvard Health Publishing, prolonged sitting can worsen pain by increasing pressure on the discs and nerves. It may also cause painful muscle spasms and irritate the sciatic nerve. Poor posture only makes things worse.

Dr. Atlas recommends walking or exercising to prevent and reduce back pain. If your back begins to hurt while you're sitting at your desk, lie down and then go out for a walk or do some stretches. "The goal isn't to get into the chair. The goal is to start moving," says Dr. Atlas. Ideally, try to stand up and walk around every half an hour. Make a habit out of stretching your back, hamstrings, and glutes every day. Choose exercises that strengthen the core, hips, and lower back muscles, such as the bird dog and the clamshell (via Health Matters).

Your everyday habits may hurt your spine

When you have lower back pain, you may be thinking that you're dealing with a serious injury or a bulging disc. That's rarely the case, though. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), the human spine isn't as fragile as most people think. It can actually handle a lot of stress without suffering major changes. Moreover, it's possible to lead a pain-free life even if you have degenerative disc disease or bulging discs.

A study conducted on 1,200 people with acute back pain found that less than 1% had cancer, fractures, and other serious conditions (via UIHC). Most times, it's the small things that cause or worsen back pain. From your diet and workout routine to your posture, every detail matters. Smoking, for example, triggers inflammation, which in turn may affect your body's ability to heal. In the long run, this habit can lead to lower back pain, warns Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Your body weight matters, too. Obese individuals are more likely to develop low back pain, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Every extra pound puts stress on your spine, causing wear and tear.

As for exercise, while it is important to stay active, excessive or strenuous exercise may cause pain in the lower back. A sedentary lifestyle isn't better either, though. That's why it's important to gradually increase workout intensity, frequency, and duration. Listen to your body and forget the old saying, "No pain, no gain."