The Spine

These articles are for general information only and are not medical advice. Full Disclaimer. All articles are compliments of the AAOS

More than 31 million visits were made to physician offices in 2003 because of back problems (Source: National Center for Health Statistics; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2003 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.) Eight out of 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Low back pain is one of the most frequent problems treated by orthopedic surgeons.

What is the Lower Back?

Your lower back is a complex structure of vertebrae, disks, spinal cord, and nerves, including:

  • Five bones called lumbar vertebrae – stacked one upon the other, connecting the upper spine to the pelvis
  • Six shock absorbers called disks – acting both as cushion and stabilizer to protect the lumbar vertebrae
  • Spinal cord and nerves – the “electric cables” which travel through a central canal in the lumbar vertebrae, connecting your brain to the muscles of your legs
  • Small joints – allowing functional movement and providing stability
  • Muscles and ligaments – providing strength and power and at the same time support and stability

How Does the Spine Work?

The lower or lumbar spine is a complex structure that connects your upper body (including your chest and arms) to your lower body (including your pelvis and legs). This important part of your spine provides you with both mobility and strength. The mobility allows movements such as turning, twisting, or bending; and the strength allows you to stand, walk and lift. Proper functioning of your lower back is needed for almost all activities of daily living. Pain in the lower back can restrict your activity, reduce your work capacity and diminish your quality of life.

What are the Common Causes?

Low back pain can be caused by a number of factors:

  • Protruding Disk
  • Age
  • Osteoporosis and Fractures
  • Low Back Sprain and Strain

The muscles of the low back provide power and strength for activities such as standing, walking, and lifting. A strain of the muscle can occur when the muscle is poorly conditioned or overworked. The ligaments of the low back act to interconnect the five vertebral bones and provide support or stability for the low back. A sprain of the low back can occur when a sudden, forceful movement injures a ligament that has become stiff or weak through poor conditioning or overuse.


Back pain caused by lifting can be prevented if you use proper lifting techniques and exercise regularly to improve your muscle strength and overall physical condition. The normal effects of aging that result in decreased bone mass, and decreased strength and elasticity of muscles and ligaments, can’t be avoided.

However, the effects can be slowed by:

  • Exercising regularly to keep muscles that support your back strong and flexible
  • Using the correct lifting and moving techniques
  • Maintaining your proper body weight; being overweight puts a strain on your back muscles
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintaining a proper posture when standing and sitting; don’t slouch
  • Staying in Shape
  • You can reduce the risk of back pain if you stay in good physical shape.

Staying in Shape

You can reduce the risk of back pain if you stay in good physical shape.

Recreational activities such as swimming, bike riding, running or walking briskly will keep you in good physical condition. There also are specific exercises that are directed toward strengthening and stretching your back, stomach, hip and thigh muscles as well as exercises to decrease the strain on your lower back. Consult your physician about a proper exercise program.