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Back Pain Causes

One of the most common reasons people go see their family doctor is back pain. Up to 80% of American adults experience an episode of low back pain during their lifetime. 

This is because the spine- particularly in the low back area is subject to a lot of strain and mechanical stress.  

The most common causes of back pain 

The majority of cases of low back pain are due to conditions affecting the spine and the joints, ligaments, muscles surrounding the spine, discs, and nerve roots. What are the most common causes of low back pain? For adults, it is mechanical stress, arthritis,  injuries, and herniated disks. For children and adults check out this article.

In many cases, the exact cause is unknown.

While many people experience low back pain short term, about 20 % who get acute low back pain will develop chronic low back pain which persists for one year or more.  

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Low back pain causes 

  • Injuries can happen during regular workouts, or from a trauma such as fall or car accident. 
  • Osteoarthritis occurs due to degeneration of the cartilage, leading to narrower spaces between the vertebrae and formation of bone spurs. Both increased the risk of nerve compression, and associated stiffness and back pain.
  • Crush fractures, Fractures of spinal vertebrae also known as crush fractures develop  due  decreased bone density. The bones become less dense due to the aging process, medical conditions like celiac disease or inflammatory bowel disease and  certain medications. Sedentary life, excess alcohol intake and smoking also increase the risk of less dense, brittle bones which leads to osteoporosis and increased risk of vertebral compression and fractures.  Crush fractures are associated with sudden, severe back pain which can become a long term problem. This condition can affect the low back, but is more likely to occur in the upper and middle back. 
  • Herniated disk is a leading cause  of low back pain and neck pain, and the risk of getting this condition increases with age. A trauma such as a fall  or lifting heavy objects can also cause a herniated disk. Some people are lucky and do not have any symptoms, yet a routine MRI shows they have a herniated disk. However, many people suffer from a lot of pain. The slipped disk irritates and damages the spinal root. This causes pain to radiate to the buttocks and down to the legs, a condition known as sciatica. More details about herniated disk in this article.
  • Congenital or acquired conditions associated with abnormal spine curvature can be a source of chronic back pain. The most common abnormal spine curvatures include  scoliosis, kyphosis, and lordosis of the spine.
  • Spondylolisthesis is a condition characterized by partial displacement of a vertebra. It can happen in young adults, especially athletes or in elderly due to degenerative diseases. In some cases both sides of a vertebra can be displaced and the affected vertebra slips forward over the vertebra below. These conditions can complicate spinal stenosis.
  • Spinal stenosis in the lower back (lumbar spinal stenosis). The low back pain associated with spinal stenosis develops because the spinal canal becomes narrower. It is more common in elderly and those with osteoarthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, or  Paget disease. 
  • Fibromyalgia affects 4 million adult Americans and is associated with pain in various parts of the body.  Unlinked acute intense pain seen is herniated disk, fibromyalgia causes less intense, diffuse, chronic pain in the muscles and surrounding tissues of the lower back.  It is  a common cause of pain that affects many parts of the body, including the low back. 

Less common causes of low back pain

Infections and tumors affecting the spine can cause, in rare cases, low back pain. Kidney, bladder or prostate infections, cancer or the ovaries or prostate, diverticulitis can all cause low back pain. Cardio-vascular conditions like abdominal aortic aneurysm, pregnancy complications, and inflammatory diseases of the abdomen can be rare, but possible causes of low back pain. 

Neck pain causes 

Hundreds of medical conditions can cause neck pain. In many cases, poor posture, holding the phone between neck and shoulder, or simply carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder can trigger temporary neck pain. Herniated disks can affect the cervical spine, and so do fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, spinal stenosis, sports injuries, and traumas – in a similar way they affect the lower back. 

Conditions affecting the head and neck like migraine headaches Whiplash is the sprain and strain of the neck caused by a sudden extension and flexion- for example, a car accident. The neck may develop right away or after several days after the trauma, along with neck stiffness, headaches, dizziness, and numbness or tingling. 

Luckily, there are effective treatments for low back pain. Mild cases can be relieved with home remedies, while a variety of drugs and surgery options are used for moderate and severe cases