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Back Pain Causes

The human spine is complex structure composed of bones, disks, muscles, tendons and ligaments. Pain can result from problems with any of these parts. However, in some people, the specific cause for their back pain remains unclear.

Knowing the what triggers your back pain will help your doctor determine which treatment options should be considered. Aside from the drugs and other back pain treatments options that may be recommended for back pain, you could also benefit from many self-care measures.

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What are the Causes of Back Pain?

Strains and sprains

The most common cause of back pain is an injury to a muscle (strain) or a ligament (sprain). These injuries can occur for many reasons, including improper lifting, excess body weight and poor posture. Strains and sprains can also develop from carrying a heavy handbag or sleeping at an awkward angle. As a pivot point for turning at the waist, the lower back is especially vulnerable to muscle strains

Sometimes muscle and ligament injury can result in immediate back pain. In other cases, the discomfort such a soreness and stiffness occur later. A muscle might knot up spontaneously when you reach for something on a high shelf. This muscle spasm is actually your body's way of immobilizing the affected area to prevent further damage to the muscles.

Structural abnormalities

Problems with bones, muscle and nerves may result in back pain. Below are different kinds of structural problems of the spine that are known to cause discomfort and may affect your mobility.

Bulging or herniated discs

Discs act as cushions between your bones in your spine. Over time, normal wear and tear can cause the outer fibers of the spinal disc weaken and stretch allowing its jelly-like center the to bulge outward. A disc bulge can progress into a more serious problem called a herniated disc. A herniated disc is often caused by injury or trauma to the spine. Most patients who have bulging discs do not experience pain unless the disc becomes herniated or protrudes into a nerve.


If a bulging or herniated disk compresses the sciatic nerve, it can result in sciatica, or the severe pain which is felt through the buttock and back of the leg. Sciatica is not a disorder, but a symptom of problems affecting the nerve. In severe cases, sciatica can make walking very difficult. Sometimes the symptoms are aggravated by certain movements such as walking or bending at the waist, but it is relieved by lying down.

Spinal arthritis

The joints of the lower back are among the joints of your body that are commonly affected by osteoarthritis. Spinal arthritis causes stiffness and pain in the lower back. The stiffness may be worse in the morning. Often the pain lessens with rest or, for some, after exercise. Sometimes arthritis in the spine leads to spinal stenosis, a condition which causes a narrowing of the space around your spinal cord.

Skeletal abnormalities

The normal spine curves in and out between the neck and lower back. You may suffer from back pain, if your spine curves in an abnormal way, such irregularities may produce strain on the bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments in your back. These skeletal irregularities include scoliosis, a curving of the spine to the side; kyphosis, severe curvature of the upper back is severely rounded and lordosis, an excessive inward curve.


In osteoporosis, the bones become porous and brittle, this may cause compression fracture of the bones that make up your spine. Osteoporosis usually affects all the bones of the body, causing many orthopedic problems as well as generalized discomfort.

Degenerative spinal disorders

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is part of the natural process of aging. As we age, our intervertebral discs lose flexibility, elasticity, as well as shock absorbing properties. The ligaments that surround the disc become brittle and more prone to injury. At the same time, the gel-like center of the disc, starts to dry out and shrink. People with DDD may experience chronic low back pain which sometimes radiates to the hips, or pain in the buttocks while walking. The pain may be felt or may increase with movements such as sitting, bending, lifting, and twisting. Discomfort may also arise from the upper spine, with pain radiating to the radiating to the shoulders, arms and hands.

Referred back pain from internal organs

Some diseases that affect the internal organs may also cause back pain. These diseases include: pancreatitis, peptic ulcers, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and presence of kidney stones. In women, some problems in the reproductive tract may cause referred back pain. These include: dysmenorrhea, pelvic inflammatory disease and some cancers.

Poor posture

Postural stress is a very common cause of low back pain. The discomfort is frequently brought on by sitting, standing or lying for prolonged periods in a poor position, bending in a bad position and heavy lifting. Of all the postural stresses, the poor sitting position is the one frequently at fault. Once low back problems start, a poor sitting posture may worsen those problems. Several back treatments can help improve posture and alleviate back pain related to poor posture.

Although back pain can affect anyone, there are certain risk factors that are known to increase one's risk of developing this problem.

More on Back Pain and Risk Factors

Risk Factors

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