The actual spinal cord (medulla spinalis) terminates between vertebrae one and two of this series, called L1 and L2. The nervous tissue that extends below this point are individual strands that collectively form the cauda equina. In between each lumbar vertebra a nerve root exits, and these nerve roots come together again to form the largest single nerve in the human body, the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve runs through the back of each leg and into the feet. This is why a disorder of the low back that affects a nerve root, such as a spinal disc herniation, can cause pain that radiates along the sciatic nerve (sciatica) down into the foot.
There are several muscles in the low back that assist with rotation, flexibility and strength. These muscles are susceptible to injury, especially while lifting heavy objects, or lifting while twisting. A low back muscle strain can be extremely painful but will usually heal within a few days or weeks.
The lumbar portion of the spine bears the most body weight and also provides the most flexibility, a combination that makes it susceptible to injury and wear and tear over time. This is why low back pain is so prevalent.