Back Pain in Women

Causes of Back Pain in Women

Most women will suffer back pain at some point during their lives. In some cases, the source of the pain will be a condition that can affect both genders. However, there are also causes of back pain that are unique to females. For all women, it’s important to have an understanding of both gender-specific and gender-neutral causes, as well as factors that put them at greater risk for back pain.

Work-Related Back Pain

Back pain is the number one reason for employees to miss work. Although women are somewhat less likely than men to develop work-related herniated discs or muscular injuries of the back, these injuries are increasing as more female workers fill positions traditionally held by males. Both men and women are at a higher risk of back pain if they have jobs that require repetitive motion or if their work involves hard physical labor on a regular basis. Women who are confined to chairs or who drive extensively during their workday can also develop painful back conditions.

Other Causes of Back Pain in Women

Of course, a work-related injury isn’t the only cause of back pain. Car accidents, falls, muscle sprains, strains and fractures, on or off the job, can all cause painful back conditions in women. Likewise, lifestyle choices can be factors, such as:

  • Poor posture
  • Not exercising
  • Smoking
  • Wearing high heels
  • Being overweight

It’s also important to consider emotions, which often bring on pain. Stress can cause muscle tension in the back, and depression and anxiety can amplify the pain. As well, back pain can be caused by specific medical conditions including:

  • Arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Infection of the bones or discs of the spine (Osteomyelitis)
  • Kidney stones
  • Osteoporosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Spondylitis
  • Tumors

Uniquely Female Back Conditions

There are also certain conditions that only affect women that can cause back pain.

  • Pregnancy back pain – Stress caused by physical changes in a mom-to-be can cause pregnancy-related back pain, especially during the third trimester.
  • Large breast back pain – This can be a lifelong issue for some women caused by the constant stress that heavy breasts put on the spine.
  • Menstrual pain (Dysmenorrhea) – Menstrual cramps, caused by contractions in the uterus, are commonly felt in the lower back.
  • Endometriosis – When the lining of the uterus grows outside of the uterus, it can cause chronic pain in the lower back and severe menstrual cramps that get worse over time.

Overcoming Back Pain

Because there are many causes of back pain in women, it’s important to talk with your physician if your back isn’t feeling right. Depending on the cause, your treatment may include lifestyle modification, medication or surgery.

Katz Institute for Women’s Health is here to answer your questions about back pain. Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-5494 to speak to a women’s health specialist.

Back Pain Management and Prevention

If you’ve ever awakened with a backache or suffered through a few days of limited mobility, you know firsthand how debilitating back pain can be. When you’re in pain, it can be difficult to focus on anything else.

Without a doubt, back pain can be disconcerting and leads many to seek medical advice. However, in the vast majority of individuals who suffer from it, symptoms are relatively short-lived and go away on their own.

According to Dr. Jason Lipetz, partner at Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, and Chief of the Division of Spine Medicine, North Shore-LIJ Spine Center,  “To some extent, we can all expect to experience back pain in our lives, most often  because of normal wear and tear.”

Approximately 80 percent of the U.S. population will have back pain at some point in their lives. In most cases, it’s limited to the lower back and non-specific, with no primary cause found. In two to 10 percent of individuals who experience low back pain, the pain will become chronic.

Back Pain Triggers
The most common cause of back pain is degenerating discs. The weight of the upper body is supported by the lower spine. Discs that sit between each vertebra act as shock absorbers and prevent the vertebrae from directly grinding against one another.

As we age, these discs begin to shrink and lose their effectiveness, a process commonly referred to as degenerative disc disease. Discs can also tear and be injured, which can lead to herniated discs. When the bulging material inside a disc begins to press on nerves within the spine, the result can be significant pain in some individuals.

Interestingly, not everyone responds the same way to degenerative disc disease or herniated discs. That is, about one-third of people who have significant disc abnormalities seen on imaging studies, such as MRIs, do not report any problems with pain.

Treating Back Pain
In most cases, back pain can be treated at home with simple remedies like heat and over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil).  There are also preventive strategies that you can take to minimize and even prevent back pain from occurring.

Dr. Lipetz recommends being especially careful in the morning. “Back pain may be more likely to happen early in the day. Discs absorb fluid overnight which makes individuals more vulnerable to injury. By focusing on staying upright and avoiding activities that stress the back after waking up, you may be able to prevent an injury from occurring.”

Could It Be Something Serious?
In the vast majority of cases, back pain is nerve or muscle-related. However, there are situations that warrant calling your doctor. If you are experiencing agonizing pain radiating down your leg or associated weakness, you should call your physician. Likewise, if pain is persistent for a week or more. In older adults, there is a greater chance that pain may be due to a fracture or other serious condition. Thus, any new back pain that seems to be unusual should be evaluated.

10 Ways to Minimize Lower Back Pain
Perhaps the best back pain tip is to prevent it from happening in the first place. There are a number of ways that you can help protect your back, especially as you age.

  • Maintain a healthy diet and weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Stretch and warm up before exercising
  • Avoid prolonged periods of bed rest or inactivity
  • Focus on using proper posture while sitting and standing
  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
  • Embrace low-impact exercises like walking, yoga and swimming
  • Sleep on a mattress with medium firmness
  • Lift with your knees and avoid twisting while lifting
  • Don’t smoke! Smoking hinders blood flow, resulting in nutrient and oxygen deprivation to discs and other spinal tissues

What about Surgery?
After experiencing a bout of back pain, many individuals wonder if surgery is the answer. Almost all physicians who perform spinal surgery will only recommend it if there are significant neurological reasons or relentless pain that doesn’t subside.

“In general, patients who are experiencing mostly leg pain and little back pain typically have the best outcomes from surgery,” says Dr. Lipetz. “And, those who have primarily back pain with little leg pain are better off with less invasive treatments.”

Are you struggling with back pain from an accident or injury? Learn more about Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation Services (STARS) at North Shore-LIJ Health System.

Have questions related to back pain or other women’s health issues? Call the Katz Institute for Women’s Health Resource Center at 855-850-KIWH (5494) to speak with a women’s health specialist.