It is important to understand that back pain is a symptom of a medical condition, not a diagnosis itself. Medical problems that can cause back pain include the following:
Mechanical problems: A mechanical problem is due to the way your spine moves or the way you feel when you move your spine in certain ways. Perhaps the most common mechanical cause of back pain is a condition called intervertebral disc degeneration, which simply means that the discs located between the vertebrae of the spine are breaking down with age. As they deteriorate, they lose their cushioning ability. This problem can lead to pain if the back is stressed. Another cause of back pain is the wearing down of the facet joints, which are the large joints that connect each vertebrae to another. Other mechanicalcauses of back pain include spasms, muscle tension, and ruptured discs, which are also called herniated discs.
Injuries: Spine injuries such as sprains and fractures can cause either short-lived or chronic back pain. Sprains are tears in the ligaments that support the spine, and they can occur from twisting or lifting improperly. Fractured vertebrae are often the result of osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, porous bones. Less commonly, back pain may be caused by more severe injuries that result from accidents and falls.
Acquired conditions and diseases: Many medical problems can cause or contribute to back pain. They include scoliosis, which causes curvature of the spine and does not usually cause pain until mid-life; spondylolisthesis; various forms of arthritis, including osteoarthritis,rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis; and spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column that puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. While osteoporosis itself is not painful, it can lead to painful fractures of the vertebrae. Other causes of back pain include pregnancy; kidney stones or infections; endometriosis, which is the buildup of uterine tissue in places outside the uterus; andfibromyalgia, which causes fatigue and widespread muscle pain.
Infections and tumors: Although they are not common causes of back pain, infections can cause pain when they involve the vertebrae, a condition called osteomyelitis, or when they involve the discs that cushion the vertebrae, which is called discitis. Tumors, too, are relatively rare causes of back pain. Occasionally, tumors begin in the back, but more often they appear in the back as a result of cancer that has spread from elsewhere in the body.
Although the causes of back pain are usually physical, it is important to know that emotional stress can play a role in how severe pain is and how long it lasts. Stress can affect the body in many ways, including causing back muscles to become tense and painful. Untreated depression and anxiety can make back pain feel much worse. Likewise,insomnia, or the lack of sleep, can also contribute to back pain.
Acute or Chronic Pain Management
Acute pain begins suddenly and is usually sharp in quality. It serves as a warning of disease or a threat to the body. Acute pain may be caused by many events or circumstances, such as:
- Broken bones
- Dental work
- Burns or cuts
- Labor and childbirth
Arthritis & Osteoarthritis
“Arthritis” describes many different diseases that cause tenderness, pain, swelling, and joint stiffness. With osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, the cartilage around the joint wears out, causing the bones in the joint to rub together, creating inflammation and pain. Most forms of arthritis can occur in any joint, including spine joints. Osteoarthritis of the spine can lead to lost flexibility, bone spurs (osteophytes), irritated nerves, spinal stenosis, and sciatica. The terms spondylosis or degenerative joint disease are used interchangeably with osteoarthritis.
Cervical Spondylotic Myelopathy (Spinal Cord Compression)
One of the most common neck conditions that occurs with age is cervical spondylotic myelopathy (CSM). Over time, the normal wear-and-tear effects of aging can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal. This compresses — or squeezes — the spinal cord. CSM can cause a variety of symptoms, including pain, numbness, and weakness.
Sprains & Strains
Sprains and strains are injuries to the body, often resulting from physical activity. These injuries are common and can range from minor to severe, depending on the incident. Most sprains and strains are minor and don’t require medical attention.
Sprains occur at joints and affect ligaments, which connect bone to bone. Strains affect muscles or tendons, which connect muscle to bone. They most often occur at the calf, thigh, or groin.
Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
Thoracic outlet syndrome (TOS) is a syndrome involving compression at the superior thoracic outlet resulting from excess pressure placed on a neurovascular bundle passing between the anterior scalene and middle scalene muscles. It can affect one or more of the nerves that innervate the upper limb and/or blood vessels as they pass between the chest and upper extremity, specifically in the brachial plexus, the subclavian artery, and, rarely, the subclavian vein.
Whiplash occurs when a person’s neck is whipped backward and then forward very suddenly. This injury is most common following a rear-end car collision. It can also result from physical abuse, sports injuries, or amusement park rides.
Whiplash results when the soft tissues—the muscles and ligaments—of your neck are extended beyond their typical range of motion. Your symptoms might not be apparent for a while, so it’s important to pay attention to any physical changes for a few days following any accident.
Although whiplash is thought of as a relatively mild condition, it can cause long-term pain and discomfort.
Numbness or Weakness
One of the most common symptoms experienced by those with MS, numbness occurs when the nerves that transmit sensations do not conduct information properly. As a result, sensations in that particular area are either lacking or nonexistent. Numbness is often one of the first symptoms experienced by people diagnosed with MS and can affect a very small area (such as a spot on the face), or it can affect entire areas of the body (such as feet, arms, and legs). In most instances, numbness only lasts for a short period of time and goes away on its own. For this reason, many consider numbness to be more of an annoyance than a disabling symptom. However, in severe cases, numbness can interfere with a person’s ability to function normally. Numbness of the legs that limits mobility is an example of numbness that can negatively affect a person’s activities of daily living.
Weakness is experienced by over half of people who have MS. There are two fundamental causes of weakness in individuals with MS. First, weakness can be caused by spasms and fatigue. This type of weakness presents as loss of strength and control in the extremities. Second, weakness can result from damaged nerves, which prevent signals from reaching the extremities. This type of weakness does not result from diminished muscle strength. It is vital that the source of the weakness be understood in order to properly treat it.