woman with back pain

What Causes Low Back Pain?

Low back pain may be the result of muscle strain, irritation and inflammation of the joints in the spine or pelvis, disc herniation or bulging discs, irritation of the nerves or trauma. Whatever the cause, chiropractic works to find the root of the problem and to correct that problem, not just its symptoms.

Muscle Strain, Muscle Tear, Pulled Muscle

A muscle strain, tear or pull is damage to the muscle tissue that causes pain and inflammation. The symptoms of muscle strain can be swelling, redness, bruising, pain at rest or on using the affected muscle and/or muscle weakness.


Inflammation occurs when there is damage to the affected tissue. It is part of the healing process as the immune system attempts to repair the damage. The signs of inflammation are swelling, redness, heat and pain.

Herniated Disc

The discs are the cushions between the bones of the spine or vertebrae. Excessive pressure on the discs can cause them to bulge or herniate. Disc herniation can cause intense pain either locally or radiating down the hip and leg, even so far as the foot. The pain is caused by the disc bulge pressing on nearby nerves.

Medications for Back Pain

There are a number of prescription and over the counter medications for pain relief. Most fall into one of two categories: analgesic (pain numbing) or anti-inflammatory. The most commonly used are anti-inflammatories or NSAID’s (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories).

Medications for low back pain offer temporary, and often times necessary, relief of pain and inflammation, but don’t address the root cause of the problem which means that when medications are stopped, the problem recurs.

NSAID’s also come with unwanted side effects: gastrointestinal irritation causing diarrhea, acid reflux and bleeding ulcers, erectile dysfunction (ED) and increased risk of cardiovascular disease like heart attacks and strokes (with the exception of aspirin). Examples of NSAID’s include aspirin, ibuprofen, naproxen. Trademarked names: Advil, Motrin, Naprosen, Anaprox.

Corticosteroids are often administered by injection at the site of musculoskeletal injuries. They exert powerful anti-inflammatory effects, but have a number of unwanted side effects including thinning of the skin and osteoporosis.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is referred to as an analgesic, which means that it increases the body’s pain threshold, but it has little effect on inflammation.

Most COX2 inhibitors were withdrawn from the market because of an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. Celebrex is still available.

Opioids, also known as narcotic analgesics, modify pain messages in the brain but come with a number of side effects: drowsiness, dizziness, respiratory depression, constipation, and urinary retention. They also can lead to addiction.

Muscle relaxants reduce pain from tense muscle groups, most likely through sedative action in the central nervous system.

Anti-anxiety drugs work on pain in three ways: they reduce anxiety, they relax muscles, and they help patients cope with discomfort.

Some antidepressants, particularly the tricyclics, may reduce pain transmission through the spinal cord.

Some anti-convulsant drugs also relieve the pain of neuropathies (nerve pain), possibly by stabilizing nerve cells.

Alternatives to Medication for Back Pain


By addressing the root cause of the pain (disc herniation, muscle strain/sprain/tension, misalignment of the spine, muscle imbalance etc), your chiropractor can relieve the pain at its source.


Acupuncture has been used for thousands of years to relieve pain. Hair thin, sterile needles are inserted locally into the back and also at remote points to encourage production of natural anti-inflammatories in the brain and direct the immune system to the area to speed healing.

Registered Massage Therapy

Muscle tension contributes to the factors that cause low back pain (herniation, muscle tear/strain/pull, poor posture, irritation of nearby nerves, poor biomechanics etc.) Massage therapy can relax muscles, increase circulation to the area, and help maintain proper alignment of the back.

Herbal Remedies

There are a number of effective herbal anti-inflammatories that do not come with the same associated risks as NSAID’s do.