June 14, 2019

Back Pain and Its Causes

causes of back pain

Persistent back pain affects millions of Americans to some degree and is a leading cause of disability. One of the challenges is that there are many possible back pain causes. The encouraging news is that once the source of the pain is identified, there are many effective treatments as well.

Why Does My Back Hurt?

Back pain can manifest in many ways ranging from a dull, muscle ache to severe stabbing or shooting pain that may radiate down a leg. In many cases, it results in decreased flexibility and range of motion that can affect mobility. However it presents to you, it likely has a negative impact on your quality of life.

Common Causes of Back Pain

Some of the most common causes of the upper, middle, and lower back pain include:

Bulging disc

The soft tissue between the vertebrae provides shock absorption in the spine and facilitates movement. When it bulges outward, it presses on a nerve. While a bulging disc may cause no symptoms in some people, in others it can result in numbness, a tingling sensation, and pain. A bulging disc can develop over a period of many years or can occur as a result of trauma to the spine.

Herniated or slipped disc

The tough exterior of disc tears and some of the softer, jelly-like interior of the disc is forced out through the opening. As with a bulging disc, a herniated disc, which can occur anywhere on the spine, can cause numbness and weakness in an arm or leg. A herniated or slipped disc is also one of the common causes of sharp back pain.

Sprain or strain

Sprains (i.e., stretching or tearing of a ligament) and strains (i.e., stretching or tearing of muscle or tendon) of the structures that support the spine are causes of sharp back pain. While they can occur anywhere, they’re one of the most common causes of severe lower back pain.

Degenerative disc disease

As we age, our spinal discs may shrink or tear more easily. If this occurs to the point that the vertebrae rub together, the condition, which can occur in the upper back, middle back, or lower back, can cause chronic pain

Osteoarthritis/spinal stenosis

As we get older, the narrowing of the canal that surrounds the spinal column can put pressure on the spine and nerves, causing numbness or pain. Spinal stenosis can also occur as a result of a traumatic injury such as a car accident.


Vertebrae can be damaged in falls, car accidents, or other violent collisions. The degree and location of a fracture affect how much pain it causes.

Back spasms

Torn muscles or tendons in the lower back – often associated with activities like weightlifting and sports – can cause intense, sometimes debilitating pain.

Strategies for Preventing or Minimizing Back Pain

While not all back pain causes can be prevented, there are steps you can take to decrease your risk. They include:

  • Maintaining good posture
  • Using proper technique when lifting heavy objects
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Using yoga or other exercises to strengthen your core muscles
  • Practicing relaxation techniques to reduce muscle tension

Back pain can range from a minor inconvenience to a major health concern. Taking good care of your body and consulting a physician to determine and treat the cause of the pain can help prevent or control it and minimize its impact on your life.

If you’re concerned that your back pain is serious or want to learn more, find an orthopedic doctor at Baptist Health.

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