There is an old saying, likely coined thousands of years ago, which remains true today: No one wants to go through life without any backbone. This is especially true with the lower back, where you certainly don’t want to be spineless. This is the location where chronic pain can be truly debilitating, affecting how you sleep, sit, and even walk. The lower back is problematic since it is an area of constant stress, as it supports the weight of the upper body. If you’re a regular desk jockey this can be more troublesome since a sedentary lifestyle can make the issue worse. Other culprits, spine injuries or simple genetics, can contribute to this problem as well. Some of these issues are due to the makeup of the spine itself. It is an important part of the central nervous system, taking information from all over the body in communication with our brain. It is the super highway of our physiology, which makes it very vulnerable to injury. Our backbones are comprised of thirty discs of vertebrae with a spongy substance in between known as cartilage. One of the main problems with our backbones is that, as the body ages, a condition called degenerative disc disease may occur. This can cause a herniated disc, in which pressure builds up against nerve endings and causes severe pain. Gunnar Andersson, an expert in orthopedic surgery in Chicago, likens the problem to air building up in a tire. That with enough tension and pressure, it will inevitably pop, causing an extreme amount of pain in the lower back alone, but can extend throughout the rest of your body.
Though a common reason for lower back pain, herniated discs are not the only cause for concern within the region of the spine. Osteoarthritis, a condition where the cartilage between joints all over the body begins to break down, can cause painful friction amongst bones. Much like with the problem of herniated discs, it is an unfortunate fact of life as we grow older. Another issue with our backbones is the vertebrae themselves. These discs of cartilage, the cushions supporting our spine and housing millions of nerve endings, are some of the most fragile parts of our body. Thus any damage done to the spine, be it from a car crash or playing football, can have painful consequences on those afflicted. Genetics also play a crucial role in back problems. Andersson states that if you compare genetically identical twins, one working hard labor while the other works in an office, a comparison of their spines will yield very similar results. This implies that genetic factors are very important to the health of one’s spine. The issue stems from receptors known as nociceptive fibers, and these are responsible for sending signals of pain up to the brain. The amount of these receptors vary from person to person, increasing or decreasing the based on one’s genetics.
In essence, a large part of our spine’s health comes from how we treat it ourselves. How we walk, how we sit, and the strains that we inflict upon it all play a crucial role in our backbone’s health and our own wellness. Sitting up straight and maintaining a good posture are both excellent ways to prevent undue stress to your lower back, because it is this stress, the friction of cartilage and vertebrae, that lead to lower back pain. Personally I haven’t suffered any severe back pain, but I have experienced some of its adverse effects. My father began to suffer symptoms of lower back pain and did not seek immediate treatment. This was shortly before I graduated from Boston University and my sister’s wedding. At my graduation, he could barely walk, let alone stand up. This was both terribly worrisome for me and a wakeup call for him. He finally sought treatment, and by the time my sister’s wedding came along, he was able to walk her down the aisle.