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Even with the more sophisticated techniques available to diagnose what's causing low back pain, many times doctors don’t know what caused the problem. "It's very hard for us to identify the reason for a patient's pain," Andersson says.

Although too much strain may be part of the equation, it isn't always entirely to blame for lower back pain. 

Tests used to help confirm the causes of back pain include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized axial tomography (CAT) scan, bone scan, and bone density test.

Lower Back Pain: Is It in Your Genes?

One of the main reasons a person develops low back pain and another doesn't may lie in their genes. With disc degeneration, Andersson says, “If you take twins -- one who is doing heavy physical work and one who is doing desk work -- and you compare their MRI exams, they are essentially identical. This tells you that genetic factors are very important.”

If you have chronic low back pain, you've likely inherited the tendency, and you're probably hardwired for it. The lower back contains sensitive receptors called nociceptive fibers, which send pain signals to the brain. "Some people have a lot of nociceptive fibers -- for example, in their discs -- while others have relatively few," Wisneski tells WebMD. That may be why one person can lift heavy weights many times and never experience low back pain, while another who barely lifts anything is in constant agony.

5 Ways to Ease Low Back Pain

Just because it's possible to inherit low back pain doesn't mean the matter is completely out of your control. "It's how we're born and how we take care of ourselves," Wisneski says.

If you sit in an uncomfortable chair all day, work a jackhammer, or regularly twist your body into uncomfortable positions, your lower back will suffer for it. Smoking -- the bad habit that increases the risk of dozens of diseases -- can also lead to backaches. One study found that smokers are nearly a third more likely to have low back pain compared to nonsmokers.

Try these five tips to prevent or ease lower back pain:

  • If you smoke, get help to kick the habit.
  • Practice good posture whenever you sit or stand. When lifting something, lift with your knees, not with your back.
  • Do exercises to strengthen the muscles that support your back -- especially the abdominals, hips, back, and pelvic area. Developing strong core muscles can make a big difference in how you feel. "When my abs are in good shape and I'm well worked out, I'm the least susceptible," Snyder says.
  • Fight the urge to crawl into bed whenever your lower back acts up. "Our bodies are meant to be used," Wisneski says. "If you have pain, sometimes you develop a ‘disease of disuse.’"
  • See your doctor and get treated for low back pain early on, so you can stay moving and keep active.

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WebMD Video Series

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What role does posture play in your chronic back pain — and what can you do about it?