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The Many Causes of Chronic Back Pain and How to Treat Them

 Back pain can be a real… well, pain. It limits mobility and often shoots up to the shoulders, spine and can cause neck pain so intense that it can seem like a migraine. Roughly eight out of ten Americans will experience severe back pain at some point in their life, and it is the leading musculoskeletal reason for sick leaves in the U.S. There can be a wide array of reasons for recurring back pain, which makes identifying the cause rather difficult. Here are several possible explanations for the back pain that’s hounding you:
 
1. Underdeveloped Lats
Chronic back pain: lats
The latissimus dorsi (or lats, as it's commonly referred to) is the single largest muscle in the human torso, and also one that’s rather hard to build up, as it is impossible to isolate in training. Strong lats provide support to the spine and a stable posture. Conversely, underdeveloped lats combined with overdeveloped frontal muscles or excess fatty tissue in the chest or abdomen can strain the back, causing pain. The best exercises for the lats are rowing and pull-ups.
2. Bloating and Other Digestive Problems
Chronic back pain: GI
While not connected directly to the back muscles, gastrointestinal conditions which cause bloating or inflammation of the stomach and intestines (such as IBS, ulcerative colitis and celiac disease) may cause pain to radiate to the back, due to the proximity of the digestive tract to spinal nerves.
3. Strains and sprains
Chronic back pain: sprain
Injuries to the back muscles and ligaments can be a major reason for back pain, which can be the result of careless physical activity (such as lifting heavy weights) and poorly-developed back muscles. Though sprains and strains are often simple enough to address, we should nevertheless treat them as a wake-up call, as an unconditioned back can lead to all sorts of misfortunes, such as:
4. A herniated disc
Chronic back pain: herniated disc
The spinal discs are rubbery rings of cartilage surrounding a nucleus of gel. A tear in the outer ring causes the gel to surge forth, pressing against the nerves, causing acute pain. One way to recognize a herniated disc is if the pain shoots down to the legs.
5. Pregnancy
Chronic back pain: pregnancy
Though usually a cause for celebration, pregnancy can cause serious back pain as weight starts shifting to the front and hormones do their number on the body. By exercising and practicing better posture, some of these pains can be alleviated.
6. Endometriosis
This cruel malady affecting women causes uterus lining tissue to grow outside of the uterus, causing intense pelvic and lower back pain, and ultimately sterilization. If the pain is especially acute during menstrual periods, this may be a sign of endometriosis. Though endometriosis is currently incurable, there are treatments that inhibit pain and delay tissue growth. Due to potential loss of fertility, it may be crucial to catch endometriosis in time and seek treatment.
7. Fibromyalgia
Chronic back pain: fibromyalgia
Another vicious medical condition that affects women at a disproportionate rate, fibromyalgia causes widespread chronic pain (including the back), fatigue and depression. Like endometriosis, there is no known cure, but symptoms can be managed through medication, therapy and exercise. Treatment aimed at addressing the mental state of those suffering from fibromyalgia has been shown to be effective in curbing its physical manifestations, as well.
8. Depression
Chronic back pain: depression
Though not a cause for chronic pain in and of itself, people who complain about chronic pain suffer from depression at an inordinate rate, which is easy enough to understand, considering how disheartening chronic pain can be. And while depression may not be the source of your ailment, it certainly exacerbates it. As mentioned before, by treating the depression aspect of chronic pain, many people have reported an improvement in physical symptoms.
9. Cancer
Chronic back pain: cancer
While not the most common cause for back pain by any stretch of the imagination, several strains of cancer can cause back pain. Obviously, spinal bone cancer will cause pain in the back, but any cancer affecting organs in the vicinity of the spine (such as colon, breast, testicular and lung cancer) can be the catalyst for back pain. About 25% of people diagnosed with lung cancer have reported experiencing back pain as a symptom.
10. Arthritis
Chronic back pain: arthritis
Osteoarthritis, a condition characterized by degeneration of joint or spinal cartilage, may be the offender in cases of back pain. Patients suffering from osteoarthritis of the spine often report weakness and numbness in their limbs. As a degenerative disease, it’s unfortunately incurable, but can be managed by weight loss, physical therapy and painkillers.
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