Back pain has many different causes. Some people have back pain related to muscle problems in their low back. Other individuals have degenerated discs that cause back pain. The internal organs of the pelvis or abdomen can also cause low back pain. Sometimes problems with the skin, such as an episode of shingles, can result in chronic back pain. In addition, problems with major heart vessels can lead to pain in the mid to upper back, and tumors in the lungs and chest can cause pain that radiates to the back.
Spinal problems often lead to other symptoms, like muscle spasms and cramps, sleep disturbances, depression and anxiety, and pain in related areas, such as the hips and lower legs.
Back pain symptoms
There is a wide range of back pain symptoms, from muscle pain to shooting, burning, or tingling. Moreover, you may experience pain that radiates down your leg or gets worse when you bend, twist, lift, stand or walk.
Causes of back pain
Back pain can occur for various reasons, and pain recognized in a specific back area may originate in a different region of the body. Symptoms of various problems of the spine can share similar symptoms. For these reasons, it can sometimes be difficult to diagnose back pain causes without using diagnostic tests and procedures.
- Skeletal muscle injury: Injury to muscle tissue is one of the most common reasons for back pain. Examples of skeletal muscle injuries are “pulled” muscles or strained muscles. Muscle imbalances and muscle spasms can also cause back pain.
- Joint injuries: Synovial joints are very mobile, and their characteristics make them prone to injury. Statistics from medical experts estimate that the causes of back pain in about 33% of people who have chronic back pain or whiplash are related to problems with the joints that cushion and lubricate the spine so that it can move freely.
Other common causes for back pain include:
- Herniation of the spinal discs
- Degenerative disc disease
- Degenerative joint disease (this is also known as osteoarthritis)
- Spinal stenosis of the lower (lumbar) spine
- Traumatic injuries (including fractures)
- Inflammatory conditions (such as rheumatoid arthritis)
- Ankylosing spondylitis
What are different classifications of back pain?
Healthcare providers sometimes classify back pain by its cause or by where it is located. It can also be classified by its duration.
- Acute back pain: This type of back pain usually has an abrupt onset. Most of the time, it is related to tissue irritation or inflammation caused by injury, illness, or surgery. When the condition causing the tissues to be inflamed is treated, and the irritation resolves, the pain is relieved.
- Chronic back pain: When back pain continues for more than three weeks, it is classified as a chronic condition. This type of pain often is caused by a degenerative condition, such as osteoarthritis or degenerative disc disease. Chronic back pain may be intermittent, and it can vary in severity from day to day. In some individuals, chronic back pain may be debilitating.
What is non-specific back pain?
Non-specific back pain is believed to be caused by a problem in the soft tissues of the back (muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues), but the exact reason cannot be located. This type of acute back pain accounts for up to 98% of cases in which no serious underlying conditions can be found.
Back pain in other conditions
In a small minority of people with acute back pain, the pain is caused by another condition. These conditions can include:
- Epidural abscess: This is a collection of pus and infected material between the vertebrae and the coverings of the spinal cord.
- Spinal osteomyelitis: This is an infection in the bones of the spine.
- Malignant cancer: This is cancer that has started to grow somewhere else in the body and has spread or metastasized to the spine.
- Herniated disc: This occurs when the soft gel-like center of an intervertebral disc leaks out of its tough outer shell and compresses or irritates a spinal nerve.
Risk factors for developing back pain include:
- Being female: Men do not suffer from back pain as frequently as women do.
- Growing older: The older you are, the greater your risk of back pain.
- Inactivity: The more active you are, the less your risk of back pain.
- Stress at work: People who work at jobs that are emotionally stressful at more likely to have back pain.
- Being pregnant: Back pain is common during pregnancy.
- Depression: People who are anxious or depressed are more like to have back pain.
- Smoking: Smoking significantly increases the risk of back pain.
- Working out or working strenuously: These activities are associated with an increased risk of back pain, especially when performed incorrectly.
- Being overweight: Excess weight increases the stress on the structures of your back, increasing your risk of degeneration, injury, and pain.