Back Pain Education 2

This post will be devoted to exploring the most common causes of back pain. While it is not 100% exhaustive, it should cover 99.9% of the conditions that are likely to cause your back pain.

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Sprains and strains. These account for most acute back pain. Per the Mayo Clinic’s definitions, a sprain is a stretching or tearing of ligaments — the tough bands of fibrous tissue that connect two bones together in your joints. A strain is a stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon. A tendon is a fibrous cord of tissue that connects muscles to bones. These types of injuries are most frequently caused by lifting, or by twisting while lifting.

Intervertebral disc degeneration. Another very common cause of back pain, this condition occurs as the cartilage between our vertebrae, which starts out rubbery, loses its cushioning ability. This is a normal part of aging, but can cause pain during bending or twisting.

Herniated or ruptured discs. This happens when an intervertebral disc is compressed - the disc may herniate (bulge outward) or rupture. The result is low back pain.

Radiculopathy occurs when compression, inflammation, or injury puts pressure on a spinal nerve. This may result in pain, tingling, and/or numbness, which may radiate to other areas of the body.

Sciatica is a specific form of Radiculopathy which occurs when the compressed spinal nerve in question is the sciatic nerve. This large nerve extends through the buttocks and down the back of the leg. In addition to shock-like or burning low back pain, symptoms may involve numbness and muscle weakness in the leg.

Spondylolisthesis occurs when a lower vertebra slips out of place. This pinches the nerves exiting the spinal column and causes pain.

Traumatic injury (which may be from falling, car accident, or athletics) can result in strains and sprains, but may also cause the spine to become compressed, which may trigger some of the above conditions.

Spinal stenosis is a condition where the spinal column narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves. This can result in pain and/or numbness with walking. Over time, this leads to leg weakness and sensory loss.

Skeletal irregularities like scoliosis (curvature of the spine), which doesn’t usually cause pain until middle age; lordosis, an abnormally accentuated arch in the lower back; and other congenital abnormalities.

Infection: this is not a common source of back pain, but it can occur if the infection involves the vertebrae (this is called osteomyelitis), intervertebral discs (discitis), or the joints which connect the bottom of the spine to the pelvis (the sacroiliac joints - infection here is called sacroiliitis).

Tumors; again, this is relatively rare. Tumors from cancer occasionally begin in the back, or they may spread to the back from cancer elsewhere in the body.

Cauda equina syndrome: this very rare but serious condition occurs as a complication from a ruptured disc. Disc material is pushed into the spinal canal, compressing lumbar and sacral nerve roots and causing permanent neurological damage if left untreated. The pressure causes loss of bladder and bowel control.

Abdominal aortic aneurysms can occur if the large blood vessel that supplies blood to the abdomen, pelvis, and legs becomes abnormally enlarged. In this case, back pain may indicate that the aneurysm is becoming larger and that the risk of rupture is increased.

Kidney stones: the kidneys are located at the lower back of the abdomen. Stones can cause sharp pain that seems to be coming from the lower back. This pain usually only occurs on one side or the other.

Inflammatory diseases of the joints can lead to lower back pain, including arthritis and spondylitis.

Osteoporosis: this metabolic bone disease, which leads to a progressive decrease in bone density and strength, can result in fractures of the vertebrae; this can be quite painful.

Endometriosis is a disease that affects women only. It is the buildup of uterine tissue outside of the uterus. If this tissue buildup occurs in the back, pain often results.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic syndrome defined by widespread muscle pain and fatigue; this may manifest as back pain.