How Ligaments Become Strained

There are 5 common causes of back pain that are responsible for the discomfort of more than 90 percent of back pain cases. The 5 most common causes of back pain include, a weakening of the muscles supporting the spine, osteophyte development on the vertebral bones, wear and tear of the facet joints, degeneration of the intervertebral discs, and changes in the spinal ligaments which are meant to support the spine.

How the spinal ligaments become strained. The function of the spinal ligaments is to support the spine. Ligaments are tough fibrous tissues that connect bone to bone. Both ligaments and bones of the back provide protection to the back and facilitate movement. Unlike muscles, however, which are built to expand and contract, ligaments only have the ability to stretch slightly. If ligaments are forced to stretch more than 25 percent of their resting length, they may become prone to a partial or complete tear. A partially torn ligament is called a strain.

Partially torn ligaments may compromise the structural integrity of the back, and it may lead to back pain ultimately. And damage to ligaments or tendons is a cause of concern, because they do not have the same ability to heal themselves the way bone and muscles do. But the ligaments of the back and lower back are very strong, and they will only stretch beyond their 25 percent limit under extreme stress. Spinal ligaments are not commonly prone to tear as a result of one traumatic event, but they may undergo degenerative changes over decades of wear and tear. Chronic strain is a more appropriate term to use when describing what usually happens to the ligaments of the spine over years of misuse. People may chronically strain their ligaments with poor ergonomic posture I at a desk or jobsite, or a poor stretching routine to support their workouts. An career in an office environment can be tough on your back if you sit in a chair that offers poor support for your back. If you work the phones or at your computer hunched forward, for several hours a day, the years of poor ergonomic habits like these can contribute to the strain of a number of spinal ligaments.

Poor posture while sitting may put added strain on the intervertebral discs as well as the posterior longitudinal ligament, the supraspinous ligament, the ligamentum flavum, and the interspinous ligament. The cumulative effects of years of strain on some or all of these ligaments may contribute to instability of the spine or back pain.

Typically, spine surgeons will look at the intervertebral discs first to determine the cause of back pain and decide whether removing the discs and fusing the vertebrae will be the best solution to the problem. But chronically strained ligaments may also be a cause of back pain, and the health of the ligaments should be considered. The ligaments such as the interspinous ligament and the ligamentum flavum themselves contain their own nerve endings. Spinal ligaments contain pain receptors called nociceptors. When these nociceptors are over stretched or under chronic strain, their firing rate will increase, meaning that they will rapidly send pain signals to the brain that something is wrong.