5 Common Causes of Back Pain

Back painYou may have heard someone say, “I threw my back out.” But what does that mean, exactly?

Well, it could mean a lot of different things. There are numerous causes of back pain, some that are mild and easily treated and others that are quite serious. Consider these five common conditions.

1. Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains are the number one cause of acute back pain. A strain happens when you stretch or tear a muscle or tendon (the tissue that connects a muscle to bone). A back sprain occurs when you stretch or tear a ligament (the tissue that holds the bones of the spine in place). Symptoms include muscle spasms, weakness, and swelling.

Many sprains and strains happen when you move improperly. This may involve lifting something too heavy, twisting your back the wrong way, or stretching too far. The injury can happen all of a sudden, or it may develop over time.

2. Disk Degeneration

Disk degeneration often causes low back pain and stiffness. As you get older, the disks that cushion the bones of your spine deteriorate. Healthy disks are rubbery and allow you to bend and twist your back. But as you age, the disks dry out, making them shrink and lose their cushioning ability. Most people older than age 60 have some form of degeneration, although it isn’t always painful.

Osteoarthritis is a leading cause of disk degeneration. Wear and tear on the joints through sports or regular activity can also contribute to the condition.

3. Herniated Disk

If your back pain doesn’t go away with time, you may have an injury to one or more of the disks in your back. Disks have a squishy center that’s surrounded by a protective ring. A herniated disk occurs when the outer part of the disk tears and the center part of the disk bulges out. 

Pain occurs when the bulge presses on the nerves of the spine. The pain usually flares up with activity and feels better with rest.

4. Sciatica

In addition to causing back pain, herniated disks can cause leg or foot pain when the disk pushes on the nerves that lead to the lower body. This is one cause of sciatica.

Sciatica happens when the large nerve that runs from the back down the legs, known as the sciatic nerve, is pinched or compressed. This causes pain in the lower back, buttocks, and leg.

5. Spinal Stenosis

The bones of your spine surround and protect the nerves of the spine. But sometimes the space that contains these nerves, known as the spinal canal, can narrow. This often puts pressure on the nerves, causing pain. The narrowing of the spine is known as spinal stenosis.

It can be caused by many conditions, including osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or curving of the spine (scoliosis). Age-related changes to the spine can also cause spinal stenosis.

The most common symptoms include neck or back pain, cramping or weakness in the arms or legs, and pain that shoots down the leg.

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The orthopedic physicians and neurosurgeons at WCHN can diagnose and treat the back pain that is a barrier in your life. Learn more about our services here: