Musculoskeletal Lower Back Pain – Causes, Risk Factors, Treatment, and Prevention

Musculoskeletal back pain states that occurs commonly nowadays and it has a greater impact on the soft tissues of the lumbar region of the back. According to a study, almost 40% of the people suffer from this condition at some point in their lives. It can occur suddenly or may develop over a period of time ranging from weeks to months. There are many causes of musculoskeletal backache but most common ones are fractures, surgeries, accidents, intensive sports, heavy work and certain medical conditions like arthritis and scoliosis. Commonly occurring symptoms are stiffness of the back, spams of back muscles, numbness in the lower back region, muscle spasm and tingling sensations in the back and upper and lower extremities.

What are the Risk Factors for this Type of Pain?

The back muscles are the most commonly used muscles by humans in daily routine activities. Our erect posture puts extra strain to our vertebral column and back muscles in contrast to animals. That is the reason, back muscles have a greater tendency to get injured if not used properly. Common risk factors for the insult to back muscles are heavy weight lifting practice and abnormal body posture and movements. Mostly, the pain is not the result of any severe condition but it is the consequence of sprained muscles, tendons, and ligaments. If you have continuous pain for a prolonged period of time that is resistant to ordinary treatment, it is a possibility that you are suffering from slipped disc or vertebral column joint problems. Other risk factors for the musculoskeletal type of backache are obesity, stress, poor lifestyle, and jobs that demand continuous sitting for a prolonged time period, frequent bending, swaying and heavy weight lifting. All these are the factors that enhance the chance for one to face the musculoskeletal disorders of the back.

What are the Symptoms?

There may be many signs and symptoms of musculoskeletal disorders of the back that vary from person to person but the most typical symptom is the presence of a dull type of ache in the lumbar region of the back and over buttocks. The character of pain may differ. It can be sharp, aching, dull or with burning or tingling sensations. Pain may also radiate to buttocks or one or both legs. Pain also may be movement related. Certain type of movements and postures can aggravate or relieve the pain. The back muscles can become hard or stiff. Sometimes the people suffering from musculoskeletal back disorders have a complaint that their whole body ache. They feel that their muscles have overworked and have become stretched. Muscles twitching and burning may also occur. These persons always feel fatigued and they have disturbed sleep cycle. Sometimes they cannot sleep because of pain.

Common Musculoskeletal Problems

Back pain itself is not a disease or diagnosis, rather it happens in consequence of any diseased condition. Some of the common musculoskeletal problems are following

  • Misalignment of vertebrae which also interferes with nerves resulting in muscle tension, muscle spasm, and subluxation.
  • Muscle strain because of extra workload to muscles.
  • Herniated or ruptured intervertebral disc.
  • Degenerative disc disease. The disc thus loses the shock absorbing effect.
  • Joints irritation.

Differential Diagnoses of Musculoskeletal Back Pain

Following are some differential diagnoses of musculoskeletal lower back pain

  • Spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is often bilateral. The signs and symptoms are weakness and numbness in the one or both legs especially pain radiating away from knees.
  • Radiculopathy or sciatica. This condition happens when the nerve root of the sciatic nerve is pressed between the intervertebral discs. Its signs and symptoms resemble that of spinal stenosis. The straight-leg-raise test is positive in this condition.
  • Cauda equina syndrome. The symptoms of this diseased condition are urinary or bowel retention or incontinence, anaesthesia in saddle region sudden weakness of both legs which is unexplained. Learn more about Cauda Equina Syndrome by clicking here.
  • Spinal neoplasia. You suspect vertebral column neoplasia when you suffer from unexplained weight loss and nocturnal aches specifically if your lumbar pain is not going to improve after the conservative treatment of 4 to 8 weeks. ESR is always elevated in this condition.
  • Spinal compression fracture. In this condition, your vertebral column is tender on palpation especially in the older patients or who are suffering from osteoporosis or taking steroid medications.

How Musculoskeletal Back Pain is diagnosed?

The diagnosis of musculoskeletal back pain is made after taking a proper history and performing a thorough physical examination. Movements of the back are observed by the physician. If the physician considers necessary, he can order the radiological investigations of the back including X-Ray, CT scan or MRI according to the degree of the disease and patient’s condition.

Treatment of Musculoskeletal Back Pain

Different kinds of mobilization techniques or therapies can be used for the treatment of the people suffering from vertebral column ligaments problems. These speeds enhance the recovery in the acute type of pain.

First, conservative management is done. For the pain reducing purpose, NSAIDs are the drugs of choice nowadays. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen are commonly used for this purpose. However, we do not recommend any medicine until you consult your health provider.

The people who are facing certain types of musculoskeletal problems like fibromyalgia, such medications are prescribed in low dosage which enhances the body level of serotonin and norepinephrine. These are the neurotransmitters in the body that modulate the function of the immune system, pain and other mechanisms of the autonomic nervous system. Sleep-inducing medicines are also suggested if the sleep cycle of the patient is disturbed. Other treatment options include

  • Injections of anti-inflammatory medications or anaesthetics around the painful site.
  • Exercises for enhancing the strength and stretching power of the muscles.
  • Physical therapy by a trained physiotherapist.
  • Occupational therapy.
  • Acupuncture and acupressure
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Osteopathic manipulation.
  • Chiropractic care
  • Therapeutic massage by the trained person
  • Use of back support belt to provide extra support to the spinal column and back muscles


Musculoskeletal back pain disorders can be prevented by adopting good lifting techniques, performing regular exercise, maintaining your weight within the normal range of BMI and stretching your muscles before sports.

Other Names of Musculoskeletal Lumbar Pain

  • Mechanical lower back pain.
  • Soreness of the lower lumbar and sacral region.