Common Causes of Back Pain

Back Pain

Common Causes of Back Pain

In the United States, 85 million people suffer with back pain. In addition, 20 million individuals visit their doctor due to back discomfort. Experts report that 4 out of 5 people experience some form of back pain during their lifetime, with many cases progressing into the chronic stage. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality found that the costs related to back pain care have increased more than 100% since 2004, as more and more people suffer from this problem. Find out about the most common causes of back pain.

Lumbar Strain

Injury can damage the muscles and tendons of the lower back. A lumbar strain occurs from excessive lifting, pushing, or pulling. Sudden twisting of the lower back can also lead to this injury. With a lumbar strain, the lower back will feel sore, have muscle spasms, and hurt with activity. Risk factors for lumbar strain include excessive low back curvature, a forward tilting pelvis, weak back and/or abdominal muscles, and tight hamstring muscles.

Degenerative Disc Disease

The intravertebral discs are round, flat, gel-filled cushions that fit between each vertebra of the spine. With water loss, aging, and wear-and-tear, these discs lose their cushioning abilities, so one vertebra may rub against another. This is known as degenerative disc disease.

Bulging Disc

With a bulging disc, the intravertebral disc bulges outside of its normal space in spinal alignment. When this bulging occurs, the disc causes narrowing of the spinal canal. Along with bone spurs, the spinal nerves are compressed, leading to back pain. Bulging discs typically occur due to aging and wear-and-tear on the spine. In a review of studies, researchers found that the prevalence of disc bulging was 30% for young adults. By age 80 years, the prevalence is 84%, making this condition quite common.

Herniated Disc

When the gel-like material inside the disc squeezes out of the hard disc coating, possibly through a crack, it is known as a herniated disc. Back pain occurs when the inner disc material rubs against spinal nerves as they exit the spinal cord. According to a recent clinical study, the incidence of herniated disc in the general population is 2%.

Adult Scoliosis

With wear-and-tear, disc degeneration, and bone height loss, the spine can begin to curve in a S shape. This is known as adult degenerative scoliosis. The vertebra begins to put pressure on the nerves, which causes back pain. Adult scoliosis is common among elderly persons, and it can cause considerable back discomfort.

Spondylolisthesis

Degenerative spondylolisthesis occurs when ligaments that hold the spine in place begin to wear down. The vertebra slips out of normal alignment, going forward until one extends over the one below it. This causes pain due to compression on spinal nerves. According to studies, spondylolisthesis affects 5% of the population by age 18 years, and is twice as common in males than females.

Vertebral Compression Fractures

Vertebral compression fracture (VCF) occurs when the bones become thin due to osteoporosis, or from an accident or fall. With time, the vertebrae get weak, and if one or more collapse, they lead to spinal deformities and back pain.

Spinal Stenosis

With degenerative disc disease, the mechanical load on the vertebrae shifts. The spine often responds by developing new bone growth where excessive force is applied. Called osteophytes, this bone growth can squeeze the spinal nerves, resulting in numbness and pain of the back, buttocks, and legs, which is known as spinal stenosis.

Resources

Brinjikji W, Luetmer PH, Comstock B, et al. (2015). Systematic Literature Review of Imaging Features of Spinal Degeneration in Asymptomatic Populations.AJNR, 1-16.

deSchepper EI, Koes BW, Veldhuizen EF, Oei EH, Bierma-Zeinstra SM, Luijsterburg PA. Prevalence of spinal pathology in patients presenting for lumbar MRI as referred from general practice. FamPract. 2016 Feb. 33 (1):51-6

Jordon J, Konstantinou K, & Dowd, J (2009). Herniated lumbar disc. BMJ ClinEvid, 1118.

National Institute on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Disease (NIAMSD). What is back pain? Retrieved from:

http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/back_pain/back_pain_ff.asp

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