What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain is one of the most common medical conditions, affecting an estimated 80 percent of all Americans at some point in their lives. But what exactly causes back pain? That’s a question we often hear at New Jersey Spine Specialists from our patients from northern New Jersey and beyond. In this blog we’ll talk about some of the common causes of back pain, so we can get the word out to lots of people at once, instead of waiting for them to get answers one at a time from our spinal orthopedic surgeons. First, back pain is a symptom, not a cause, so there is no one answer as to the cause of back pain. In fact, the problem is not always in the back, even if that’s where the pain occurs. That being said, a variety of medical conditions affecting the spine can cause pain in the lower back.
Some of the most common causes of back pain include a bulging or herniated disc, disc disruption or degeneration, and deterioration of the spinal joints known as spondylosis. Pressure on spinal nerves sometimes referred to as a pinched nerve is another source of back pain. The pressure can be from a bulging disc or from narrowing of the spinal canal which is knows as spinal stenosis. Back pain from pressure on the spinal nerves is frequently associated with pain shooting down the back of the leg, which is referred to as sciatica. Shifting of a vertebra, referred to as spondylolisthis, is another cause of back pain. Spinal malformations like kyphosis, or humpback, are a less common cause of back pain. Spinal conditions are also common in adults between the ages of 35 and 65 as a result of natural aging processes, so they are responsible for many cases of back pain.
The ligaments and muscles that help stabilize the spinal column can also be the source of back pain, if these soft tissues become bruised or tear as a result of injury or strain. Such injuries are common among younger people as a result of sports injuries or accidents, and in older people as a result of lifting heavy objects or straining the back muscles. This pain can be quite severe.
Back pain is unusual in that people can sometimes have terrible pain on one day with minimal pain the next. Doctors do not have a good explanation for this episodic nature of back pain, but it is a well-described phenomenon. In women, back pain may be associated with menstrual cramps and the late stages of pregnancy. Back pain can also be the result of problems in the internal organs or from tumors that press against nerves emanating from the spinal column. Even stress can result in back pain, by causing muscles in the back to tighten.
The primary point to keep in mind is that back pain can be caused by a wide spectrum of conditions. Identifiable spinal conditions such as disc herniations, scoliosis, spinal stenosis and spinal cord injuries may be the most common, but they are far from the only back pain causes. For the most effective diagnosis and treatment of such pain, we recommend consulting a board certified physician who specializes in spinal disorders.