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The Three Main Causes of Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain can be debilitating. It can make it hard to sit, stand, or even walk. Many things can cause pain, but there are three common causes of lower back pain. Not everyone’s condition will fall into one of these three causes however, most lower back pain can be categorized into three main areas.

The three areas are:

  •  Muscular imbalances and weakness
  •  Degenerative conditions
  •  Herniated discs


There are other causes of lower back pain, but these three are the most common. Let’s take a closer look at each one.


Muscular Imbalances and Weakness

Strong muscle vs. Weaker muscle

The lower back is composed of several muscles that work together to support the spine. When these muscles are out of balance, it can lead to lower back pain. Muscle imbalances can be caused by several things, including:

  •  Poor posture
  •  Muscle weakness
  •  Inactivity
  •  Obesity


Degenerative Conditions

Senior with degenerative back

Degenerative conditions are those that occur over time, such as arthritis or degenerative disc disease. These conditions can cause lower back pain by:

  •  Wearing down the cartilage between the vertebrae
  •  Narrowing the space between the vertebrae
  •  Inflammation


Herniated Discs

Herniated disc

Herniated discs are a common cause of lower back pain. The discs act as cushions between the vertebrae, and when they become herniated or ruptured, they can cause pain. Herniated discs can be caused by:

  •  A sudden injury
  •  Lifting something heavy
  •  Repetitive motions


These are the three main causes of lower back pain. If you’re experiencing lower back pain, one of these is likely the cause.


How to Know if You Suffer from One of These Three Major Causes

It’s never a great idea to self-diagnose a serious medical condition on your own. However, each condition does have symptoms that are unique to that condition. If you’re experiencing lower back pain, here are some things to look for that could indicate which of the three main causes is to blame:


Muscular Imbalances and Weakness

  •  Pain that gets worse when you move around
  •  Pain that improves when you rest
  •  Muscle spasms or cramping
  •  Trouble moving your legs or feet


Degenerative Conditions

  •  Gradual onset of pain
  •  Pain that gets worse with activity
  •  Stiffness in the morning or after sitting for long periods
  •  Numbness or weakness in the legs


Herniated Discs

  •  Sharp, Shooting pain
  •  Pain that radiates down your leg or into your arm
  •  Numbness or weakness in your leg or arm


If you’re experiencing lower back pain, it’s important to see a doctor or physiotherapist to get a proper diagnosis. Once the cause of your pain is determined, treatment can begin. In some cases, lower back pain will go away on its own. However, if the pain is severe or persists for more than a few days, it’s important to seek medical help. Treatment for lower back pain will vary depending on the cause, but may include:

  • Pain medication
  • Physiotherapy
  • Chiropractic care
  • Surgery


Lower back pain can be painful and debilitating, but there are treatments available. If you think you may be suffering from one of the three main causes of lower back pain, talk to your physiotherapist or health care practitioner.

Additional Resources

The Mayo Clinic has an article on the causes and symptoms of lower back pain.

The Cleveland Clinic article on lower back pain.

About the Author

Juliana Bergin PT is a certified physiotherapist and one of the owners of Bergin Motion. Bergin Motion is a family-run Barrie Physiotherapy Clinic located in Barrie’s Southend. Juliana specializes in orthopedic injuries. Juliana works with high-end athletes as well as weekend warriors. Juliana is part of a team at Bergin Motion in Barrie, Ontario that works with all kinds of conditions.

About Bergin Motion

Barrie Ontario Physiotherapy

Bergin Motion is a Barrie Physiotherapy Clinic. Bergin Motion offers physiotherapy in Barrie to clients with a wide range of conditions.

The clinic in Barrie specializes in orthopedic, neurological, and pelvic health disciplines.

Bergin Motion treats clients both at their clinic and in the comfort of their own homes if they cannot travel to the clinic.

Located in the south end of Barrie, Ontario, the physio clinic boasts 9000 sq. ft., with seven treatment rooms and a fully equipped gym.