An introduction to the causes of back pain
Back pain is a common problem and most of us will have suffered it at some point in our lives.
Back pain usually results in stiffness and ache in the back and is experienced most commonly as lower back pain affecting the lower half of the spine, and less frequently as upper back pain which affects the neck and shoulders.
Back pain has many causes, and often it is difficult to identify the cause without information regarding when and how the pain started.
What are the possible causes of back pain?
For most people the cause of back pain is rarely down to a serious underlying health problem.
Pain arises from the spine (or vertebral column), a complex structure made up of 33 individual vertebrae interconnected by intervertebral discs and other tissue structures.
As we get older, the tissues linking each vertebra become worn down by the wear and tear of movement and this is what causes back pain for many of us. This accounts for the observation that back pain occurs more frequently in the middle aged and elderly members of the population. In fact, apart from muscular injury, the degradation of the vertebral column is the most common underlying cause of back pain.
However, in less common circumstances, an underlying condition may be the cause of back pain. This may include:
- fracture (a break in a spinal bone)
- rheumatoid arthritis (an inflammatory condition where the immune system causes inflammation around joints
- osteoporosis (a condition where bones become weak due to loss of density)
- slipped disc (this is when an an intervertebral disc puts pressure spinal nerves)
- osteoarthritis or rheumatism (wear and tear of joints affecting bones in the spine)
- spinal stenosis (when the spaces between individual vertebrae become narrower)
In much rarer circumstances, back pain may also be caused by an infection or cancer.
What triggers back pain?
Back pain can be triggered by a number of different factors. Often these occur while simply performing everyday activities which would normally be undertaken without incident.
Pain can come on gradually over time, perhaps as a result of repetitive strain injuries or bad posture. Some of the main triggers for back pain are:
Occasionally pain occurs without a known trigger. This occurs most often in the mornings when, upon waking, a person may find themselves in pain. Often this is from lying in an awkward position and it tends to resolve itself fairly quickly.
What will increase my risk of suffering from back pain?
For most people there is no physiological or genetic predisposition to back pain, although from time to time, back pain is seen to run in families.
Whatever the cause of back pain, there are a number of lifestyle factors which will increase an individual’s chance of developing the condition. Some of these risk factors are:
- being overweight (carrying extra weight puts pressure on the spine and puts strain on back muscles)
- long term use of medication (drugs such as corticosteroids have been known to reduce the strength of bones)
- low mood or depression