Back Pain Causes & Conditions
One of the most common locations for acute or chronic pain is the back. Common back pain causes and conditions include injuries like sprains, strains, fractures or breaks, as well as conditions such as arthritis, degenerative disc disease, ankylosing spondylitis or a herniated disc. Back pain can lead to discomfort in the muscles, in or along the spine, or even in the hips, legs or buttocks, depending on the cause. Whether dull, sharp or stabbing, back pain can make walking, standing and sitting difficult, and can also worsen after lying down. Back pain can limit the ability to work or be active, and bending or twisting can feel difficult or impossible.
Disc Problems and Related Conditions
The five lumbar vertebrae in the lower back are cushioned by discs that function as shock absorbers in our body, allowing the spine to twist and bend smoothly. Slipped, herniated or bulging discs can occur when the soft tissue inside the disc pushes out through the disc wall due to compression or simple wear and tear over time. This situation can cause pain due to pressure on the nerves that run along the spine. Disc problems can also cause weakness, tingling or numbness in the limbs.
Sciatica can develop when a herniated disc compresses the sciatic nerve, which branches downward from the lower spine. This condition can lead to pain in the lower back, hip, buttock or back of the leg that can range from mild or achy to sharp, jolting or even excruciating.
Along with herniated discs, degenerative disc disease can arise as a result of the natural aging process or because of an injury to the spine. This condition occurs when the discs cushioning the vertebrae are weakened due to small, painful tears in the disc wall. These tears create scar tissue when they heal; since the scar tissue isn’t as strong as the original disc wall, the new tissue weakens over time, resulting in lower back pain.
Muscle, Tendon or Ligament Strains, and Sprains
Back muscle, tendon or ligament strains typically occur after lifting something improperly. Lack of regular exercise, poor posture and being overweight are also risk factors in developing back pain due to a strain or sprain, as is lifting and twisting at the same time. Improper form during weight training and other types of physical exercise can also lead to a painful back strain or sprain.
Arthritis, Ankylosing Spondylitis, and Other Inflammation Conditions
Arthritis is common among older people, and more common among women than men. Osteoarthritis occurs with age as the cartilage protecting the ends of the bones wears down over time, causing grating and pain. Bone spurs due to osteoarthritis can develop along the spine, causing even sharper pain. In rheumatoid arthritis, the joints become inflamed; this can occur in the small joints of the spine, causing stiffness and pain. In serious cases, the spinal cord and nerves may become compressed, producing pain that can be quite severe.
Spinal stenosis can develop as a result of osteoarthritis when the open spaces within the spine become narrower, putting pressure on the spinal cord and nearby nerves. This condition can cause pain, numbness, tingling or muscle weakness, and can even compromise the normal functioning of the bladder or bowels.
Ankylosing spondylitis is an inflammatory disease which can develop when the vertebrae in the spine fuse together over time. Typically affecting more men than women and often starting in early adulthood, this condition causes the back to become progressively less flexible. The fused vertebrae can cause pain and stiffness in the hips and lower back, and sometimes in the neck.
Coccydynia is an inflammation of the tip of the tailbone (or coccyx) that causes pain in the area between the buttocks. It can develop after childbirth, sitting too long or as a result of a fall.
Other Conditions Causing Back Pain
Osteoporosis is a condition that can develop with age and is most common among white and Asian women. This condition causes the bones to become progressively weaker and more brittle, to the point that a fall or even something as simple as coughing or bending over can cause a fracture. Spinal fractures due to osteoporosis are also referred to as compression fractures of the spine. These fractures can be quite painful, as can the collapse of vertebrae in the spine due to overall bone degeneration.
Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine, normally develops in early childhood. It usually isn’t painful, but in some cases, when the spine twists, an affected individual can experience back pain.
Metastatic cancer of the spine develops and spreads within or near the vertebrae. If a tumor develops in the spine, the side effects can be serious, including paralysis or the inability to urinate.
Failed back syndrome after surgery occurs when a surgery on the back or spine results in continued pain post-surgery. This typically happens when the operation failed to correct the original cause of pain.
Kidney stones can cause flank pain—that is, pain in the side of the body between the ribs and the hip.
Even simple day-to-day activities can trigger back pain, such as lack of exercise, wearing high heels, slouching and other forms of poor posture.
Videos About Common Back Pain Conditions
- Degenerative Disc Disease
- Facet Joint Syndrome
- Herniated Discs
- Lumbar Radiculopathy (Sciatica)
- Metastatic Cancer of the Spine
- Post Laminectomy Syndrome
- Spinal Stenosis
- Where Back Pain Begins
- Compression Fracture of the Spine