What is Back Pain?

David Donald

Back pain is something about 8 out of every 10 Americans will experience at some point during their lifetimes. As you age, your chances of developing back pain increase. A sudden twist or pull is often all it takes to cause back pain. Here are some facts about back pain and the people it affects.

Population affected by back pain

  • 75 to 85 percent of all people will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime.
  • Back pain is the second most frequently reported reason for visiting a doctor, the fifth most frequent cause of hospitalization, and the third most frequent reason for surgery.
  • The highest rate of back pain occurs in the 45- to 65-year-old age group.
  • Although the incidence of overall back pain is similar in men and women, men are more likely to have low back pain, while women are more prone to upper back pain.
  • After the common cold, low back pain is the next leading reason for missed work days for people under 45.
  • Approximately 50 percent of all patients who suffer from an episode of low back pain will have another occurrence within one year.

What are the causes of back pain?

While a frequent cause of back or neck pain can be a muscle strain or ligament/tendon sprain, many people with chronic pain may actually have common problems related to the spine. Some of these causes may include:

  • Degeneration
  • Deformity
  • Trauma
  • Infection
  • Tumors or
  • Inflammation

Degenerative conditions of the spine occur naturally with  age and are the most common form of back pain. These changes cause spinal structures to harden, thicken, dehydrate, expand, and lose elasticity, resulting in loss of flexibility and functionality. The spine also tolerates loads less and is more susceptible to injury.  Stopping degenerative effects of the spine is impossible; however, regular exercise, proper lifting techniques, balanced nutrition and not smoking slows degeneration.

Back may also result from injuries, such as healy physical labor, strenuous sports, accidents, household chores and poor posture. This pain typically related to muscle strain.

What are the symptoms of  back pain?

Lower back pain most often affects adults 60 years old or younger. Some of the symptoms of lower back pain include:

  • Leg pain and possible numbness, which usually becomes worse after long periods of standing or sitting. A herniated disc is a condition that can cause this type of back pain.
  • Degenerative disc disease or changes in the joint which can cause mechanical back pain, resulting from activities such as bending or running.
  • When lower back pain worsens while standing or walking it may be caused by a misaligned vertebrae – a condition known as spondylolisthesis.
  • Joint cartilage deterioration, or facet joint osteoarthritis, causes lower back pain in the morning and evening.
  • A narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) or degenerative spondylolisthesis can cause leg pain while walking or standing.

Neck pain or cervical pain

  • Neck pain radiating down the arm is frequently caused by disc herniation or a narrowing of the neural passageways (foraminal stenosis).
  • Arm pain with lack of coordination is commonly caused by cervical stenosis with narrowing of the spinal canal and spinal cord dysfunction (myelopathy).
  • Neck pain lasting at a low level for a few months with occasional flare-ups may be the result of disc degeneration.
  • Facet joint arthritis is what commonly causes neck pain in the morning or evening.

Types of back pain

Acute pain is associated with a sudden, intense pain lasting for a short period of time. This pain typically stems from injuries to muscle or other soft tissues, such as ligaments and tendons, and usually heals in a few days or weeks.

Chronic pain is a deep, dull, or aching pain that lasts for three months or more. This pain is often located  in one area or may travel down the arms and legs. Pain radiating to the arms and legs (radicular pain), or numbness and tingling often indicates a specific anatomic abnormality and warrants seeking a spine specialist, such as an orthopedic surgeon.

If any of the following back pain symptoms occur, contact the BioSpine Institute if:

  • Pain is worse when you cough or sneeze
  • Pain or numbness travels down one or both legs
  • Pain awakens you from sleep
  • You are finding it difficult to pass urine or have a bowel movement
  • Pain is accompanied by loss of control or urination or bowel movements


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