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What Causes Back Pain?

Oct 22, 2021
What Causes Back Pain?

One of the most common medical problems is back pain. It is likely that you will suffer from it at some point in your life. Back pain is a common cause of people missing work and seeking medical attention. It causes disability for several people. 

Back pain can happen to anyone. It is more likely to develop as people age, due to factors related to previous occupations, and degenerative disc disease. It can be caused by many different factors, such as an accident, physical exertion, or certain medical disorders. 

While back pain is quite common, it is also extremely difficult to diagnose. This is because there is no defined guideline or protocol for evaluating this problem. However, if you know the underlying causes of back pain, you can take steps to prevent or alleviate most instances of back pain.

back pain

Back Pain Symptoms

Back pain symptoms can include

  • A persistent ache or stiffness down the spine, from the base of the neck to the tailbone
  • Sharp, localized pain in the neck, upper back, or lower back, often after lifting heavy objects or indulging in intense activities. However, pain in the upper back can be an indication of a heart attack or other life-threatening conditions.
  • Back pain radiates from the lower back to the tailbone, down to the back of the thigh, and into the calf and toes.
  • Chronic pain in the lower or middle back, particularly after long periods of standing.
  • Lack of ability to stand straight without having muscle spasms or pain in the lower back.

If you have any of the back pain symptoms listed below, it could be a sign of a more serious problem that necessitates a visit to the doctor.

  • If pain is accompanied by weakness in the legs and arms, difficulty walking, tingling, or other nerve-related problems.
  • If you experience pain along with urinary incontinence or loss of bowel control, this is probably a serious condition.  
  • If the back pain does not settle in slowly, and you experience pain that appears very abruptly.
  • If along with the pain you experience weight loss, have a high and recurring fever, swelling, or inflammation on the back.

Back Pain Causes

The human back is made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, discs, and bones. They all work together to support the body and help us move around. The spine segments are cushioned by discs, which are cartilage-like pads.

Back pain can be caused by issues with any of these parts. Back pain, usually, does not have one cause. It can be due to many different reasons.


Back pain usually stems from strain, injury, or tension. Frequent causes of back pain are

  • Muscle spasms
  • Damaged discs
  • Injuries, fall, or fractures
  • Muscle tension
  • Strained muscles or ligaments

Activities that can lead to spasms or strains include

  • Lifting something improperly
  • Lifting heavy objects
  • Making an abrupt and awkward movement

Structural Problems/Disorders

Back pain can also be caused by a number of structural problems/disorders.

  • Abnormal Curvature of the Spine: Back pain can develop if the spine curves in an unusual way. If you have scoliosis, you will experience pain.
  • Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis can affect joints in the lower back, hips, and other parts of the body. The area around the spinal cord can narrow causing spinal stenosis.
  • Bulging Discs: This happens when the spongy discs between the vertebrae get compressed and bulge out. A bulging disc puts more pressure on the nerves leading to back pain.
  • Kidney Problems: Kidney infection or kidney stones can result in back pain.
  • Osteoporosis: This condition can make the bones brittle and porous, and result in bone/spine cracks or fractures. Bone fractures or vertebral compression fractures can cause chronic back pain, making it difficult to walk, stand, sit, or lift any object.
  • Ruptured Discs: Each vertebra in the spine is padded by discs. If the disc ruptures there would be more pressure on the nerve, resulting in back pain.
  • Sciatica: A sharp and stinging pain that travels through the lower back to the hip, and down to the back of the leg. This is caused by a herniated disc or a bulging disc pressing on the nerve.

Movement and Posture

Back pain can also be caused by certain daily activities or bad posture. Some instances are

  • Bending awkwardly for long periods
  • Sneezing or coughing 
  • Long sessions of driving without stopping, even while not hunched
  • Muscle tension
  • Over-stretching
  • Pulling, pushing, or carrying/lifting something
  • Sleeping on a mattress that does not support the body and keep the spine straight
  • Sitting/standing for long periods
  • Straining the neck forward when using a computer or driving
  • Twisting
back pain

Back Pain Treatment

Back pain might not always necessitate extensive treatment. Often, over-the-counter pain relievers are effective. Stronger back pain treatments could well be required in extreme symptoms, although they are usually given under a medical professional’s care.


  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to treat the majority of back pain instances. Pain relievers or analgesics are other alternatives, albeit they lack anti-inflammatory properties. 
  • Topical rubs and ointments are highly effective in reducing back pain.
  • Opioids are more potent pain relievers that might be administered for more severe cases of pain.
  • Muscular relaxants can also be used to treat low back pain, particularly if the pain is accompanied by muscle spasms. These medicines work by reducing pain by acting on the central nervous system.
  • Some types of antidepressants have been shown to relieve chronic back pain independent of their effect on depression. 
  • For severe back pain, the doctor may also consider cortisone steroid injections.


Surgery is a last option treatment for back pain and is rarely required. It is generally reserved for structural disorders that have not responded to medication and therapy. This can include acute, persistent pain as well as nerve compression, which causes muscles to weaken.

Spinal fusion is a procedure in which two or more painful vertebrae are joined together to form a single, more solid one. To treat pain caused by degenerative bone diseases, surgery to partly remove and replace discs and vertebrae is performed.

Alternative Therapies

The alternative therapies that can help relieve back pain include

  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic adjustments
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Massage
  • Relaxation techniques

Home Treatments/Remedies

  • In the early stages of back pain, ice packs/warm compressors may assist to ease discomfort and reduce inflammation. 
  • Exercises to correct posture and build the core muscles (the muscles of the back and abdomen) are a therapeutic option that must be seriously considered.
  • According to studies, lavender essential oil or capsaicin-based ointments can help relieve pain.
  •  A hot water bath can help relieve sore muscles, but while soaking, add Epsom salt to the water to give the back an extra boost.

Bottom Line

Back pain is one of the common medical disorders. If you know the underlying back pain causes, you can take steps to prevent or alleviate most instances of back pain. Back pain usually stems from strains, incorrect posture and movement, injury, or tension and can also be caused by a number of structural issues such as bulging discs, osteoporosis, kidney problems, etc. 

Back pain treatments include medications, surgery (though it is very rare), and alternative therapies such as acupuncture, massage, relaxation techniques, etc. Alternatively, there are many home remedies that may relieve back pain. This includes ice/warm compressors, exercises, applying essential oils, and soaking in hot water containing Epsom salt.

There are also products available that can ease back pain such as Lumbar support cushions, specially designed pillows/mattresses, heating pads, back braces, among others.

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