Back pain is one of the most common kinds of chronic pain, ranging from moderate to intense. At least 75 to 85% of Americans will experience back pain in their lifetime, according to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.
Back pain can manifest in multiple ways, with symptoms including muscle ache, pain that worsens with movement (walking, lifting, bending), and pain that radiates down the leg.
Compared to other pains, back pain can be particularly challenging to address because it’s such a large muscle group. It becomes even more difficult if the problem is caused by structural issues, including the vertebrae or disks.
Common Causes Of Back Pain
In most cases, back pain can be traced to a singular cause. Whether it’s wear and tear, a degenerative disk disease, or just aging, there’s always a definitive reason for back pain. Here are some conditions that are known for causing back pain:
- Muscle strain
Muscle strain is a less severe version of back pain. Most muscle strains are caused by lifting something heavy or having improper form when lifting something. Muscle strain can also be caused by injuries and falls.
- Bulging or ruptured disk
Disks function as a cushion between the bones and nerve endings. When the disks slip or move, they can press on a nerve, causing discomfort. On the other hand, the disks in our spine can also slip due to degenerative disk diseases.
- Arthritis and osteoporosis
These two diseases are known culprits for back pain. When left untreated, arthritis can further evolve into a condition called spinal stenosis, which is characterized as the narrowing of the spaces within the spine, causing the nerves to contract.
On the other hand, osteoporosis is a condition that causes bones to become porous and brittle. When this happens, the spine can also constrict and put pressure on the nerves.
- Poor Posture
Sometimes back pain just comes from holding an uncomfortable position for too long. Pain caused by poor posture is often just muscle strain and should ease up in a couple of days. Similar reasons could be stretching and twisting in the wrong direction, bending awkwardly, or sleeping or sitting on a surface without proper lumbar support for an extended period of time.
Pain coming from these sources is distinguishable as a lingering, radiating pain as opposed to sharp, searing pain.
Is Your Back Pain Serious?
Although common, some types of back pain require serious attention. If the back pain is caused by a chronic or a degenerative disease, regular appointments are necessary to keep your spine or back in good health.
Here are other situations where back pain warrants urgent medical attention:
- You are experiencing fever along with back pain
- You are experiencing loss of bladder or bowel control
- You are experiencing unprecedented weight loss
- You are experiencing numbness and weakness on your extremities
- You are having a hard time balancing, and your posture is being affected
How Is Back Pain Diagnosed?
Back pain is diagnosed through a series of functional and visual exams. Patients are asked to undergo a physical exam to test flexibility, strength, mobility, and range of motion. Additional tests such as x-rays, CT scans, EMG, and bone scans may be added if your doctor suspects a more serious condition.