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Back pain that appears suddenly and lasts less than six weeks (acute) can be due to a fall or lifting a heavy object. The back pain that lasts for more than three months (chronic) is less common than acute pain.
Often, a health professional may not be able to identify the cause of the back pain with a test or diagnostic imaging study.
The most common disorders associated with back pain include:
Muscle strain or ligament sprain. To lift heavy objects repeatedly or to make a sudden bad movement can put pressure on the muscles of the back and the ligaments of the vertebral column and cause painful muscle spasms.
Disc protrusion or herniation. Each one of the intervertebral discs are pillows that separate the vertebrae. They function as shock absorbers and allows slight movements of the vertebrae. With ageing, the intervertebral disc can lose fluid and become dry. When this happens, the disc is compromised. This can deteriorate the external ring that enables the gelatinous nucleus to stick out or protrude. This is called a disc protrusion.
As the disc degenerates, or with the continuous force of the column, the disc fractures and the interior comes out of the disc. This is called a disc rupture or herniation. The fragments of disc material can then put pressure on the nerve roots that are located just behind the disc space. This can cause pain, weakness, numbness, or changes in sensation. However, one can have a disc protrusion or herniation without feeling back pain. The disc problem is usually detected accidentally when an X-ray, magnetic resonance, or CT scan of the vertebral column is performed for some other reason.
Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the area and reduce the space that surrounds the spinal column, a disorder that is called spinal canal stenosis.
Bone irregularities. Anomalies of the anatomy of the back, such as abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis), can also cause back pain.
Osteoporosis. The vertebrae of the spine may present with fractures due to compression when the bones become porous and fragile.
Risk factors of Back Pain
Anybody can have back pain, even children and adolescents. Some factors that increase the risk of having it are:
Age. Back pain is more common as one gets older, from 30 or 40 years onwards.
Lack of exercise. A back and/or abdomen weakened due to lack of exercise favours back pain.
Excess weight.Obesity is an excess burden for the back.
Diseases. Some types of osteoarthritis and cancer can contribute to the back pain.
To lift objects incorrectly. To perform this effort with the back instead of the legs can cause back pain.
Psychological conditions. Individuals prone to depression and anxiety appear to have a higher risk of having back pain.
Smoking. Smoking reduces the blood flow and, therefore, prevents the body supplying sufficient nutrients to the vertebral discs. Smoking also delays the recovery process.
Published: 23 October 2019
Updated: 23 October 2019
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