Is your back hurting? This may be why.

man on floor with back painBack pain is the leading cause of disability around the world and is one of the most common reasons people go to a doctor. In fact, almost everyone will experience back pain at some point in their lives. Some back pain is acute, meaning it is temporary and will get better after a few days or weeks. But some people experience chronic back pain—pain that is always there or that comes and goes.

When it comes to your back, there are many different things that can cause it to hurt. There are also many different symptoms you may have. Some people only experience dull aching or minor stiffness when moving. Others may have pain that is severe, describing it as a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation. They may also experience a loss of mobility and functionality. Sometimes the pain is felt in a specific spot or it may be spread all over your back. It may even be felt somewhere other than your back, such as in the buttocks or legs, causing aching, tingling and numbness.

What are the most common causes of back pain?

It's no wonder that back pain is one of the most common medical problems. Your back is made up of an intricate network of structures that span from the base of your head to your tailbone. This includes muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, vertebrae and your spinal cord. Disrupting any of these structures can cause pain and other symptoms.  Common causes of back pain include:

  1. Heavy lifting
  2. Pushing, pulling or twisting
  3. Falls
  4. Car accidents or other traumatic injury
  5. Strenuous exercise or activity
  6. Job-related tasks
  7. Poor posture
  8. Awkward sleeping position
  9. Arthritis
  10. Inflammation
  11. Pulled muscles
  12. Sprains or strains
  13. Fractures
  14. Disc problems, such as bulging, ruptured or herniated discs
  15. Structural problems of the spine, such as spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis or scoliosis
  16. Degenerative changes in the spine, such as osteoporosis or degenerative disc disease
  17. Conditions affecting the nerves in the spine, such as sciatica
  18. Tumors
  19. Kidney stones
  20. Fibromyalgia

What increases your risk of developing back pain?

There are a number of factors that may increase your risk of developing back pain, but there is no way to guarantee your back will never hurt. Risk factors include age, overweight/obesity, poor fitness level, weak muscles, stress, pregnancy and hereditary conditions. Some job and recreational activities may also increase your risk.

When should you see a doctor about back pain?

Most back pain gradually improves within a few days to a few weeks and doesn't require medical care. Resting, stretching, icing, applying heat or taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are home care remedies that often provide relief. If you experience the following symptoms, however, it may be time to see a doctor:

  • Pain that is severe and doesn't improve with home treatment
  • Pain that doesn't improve within a few weeks or gets worse
  • Pain that radiates down one or both legs, causing weakness, tingling or numbness
  • Pain that severely restricts mobility or functionality
  • Pain that is due to a serious fall or injury
  • Pain that is accompanied by bladder or bowel problems
  • Pain that is accompanied by unexplained weight loss

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Date Last Reviewed: May 17, 2023

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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