Back Pain Causes

If back pain comes on suddenly and lasts less than six weeks, it is classified as acute back pain and usually does not require extensive treatment to improve. However, if your back pain lasts more than three months, it is classified as chronic back pain. This is much less common than acute back pain and can potentially be more difficult to diagnose as well.

Back pain is usually a symptom that is an indicator of another problem. Here is a look at some of the most common causes. 


This is one of the most common causes of back pain, as it is fairly easy to strain the muscles or ligaments in your back. This can be the result of incorrectly lifting heavy objects, sudden awkward movements, or even simple muscle overuse. Constant strain on your back can sometimes lead to painful muscle spasms as well.

Structural Problems

Problems in your back that have to do with the spine can also be very painful. These kinds of problems commonly include:

  • Disc injury: You have discs made of cartilage that cushion the area between each vertebra in your back. It is fairly common for these to rupture or bulge. This can cause your nerves to be compressed, which can be very painful.
  • Sciatica: If a bulging disc presses on the nerve that travels from your back down your leg, this can cause a condition known as sciatica. It can lead to pain, numbness, tingling, or weakness in your back and leg.
  • Scoliosis: This is a condition that can cause your spine to curve. In severe cases, it can be very painful.
  • Spinal stenosis: Caused by arthritis in the spine, this is a condition that causes narrowing of the spinal canal, which can lead to back pain.
  • Osteoporosis: This is a condition that causes loss of bone density and thinning of your bones. Because this leads to brittleness and porousness, it can cause compression fractures in your vertebrae, which can be very painful.

Other Causes

If you are experiencing severe back pain that does not improve with rest, it may be caused by a more serious condition. After the more common causes are ruled out, your doctor will probably perform tests to determine if your pain is being caused by a more rare condition, such as:

  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis: This is caused by the displacement of one vertebra onto another.
  • Cauda equine syndrome: This is caused by the loss of nerve function at the lower portion of your spinal cord.
  • Fungal or bacterial infection: Pain could be caused by an infection in the spine. The most common infections include Staphylococcus or E. coli and require antibiotic treatment as soon as possible.
  • Tumors: Pain could be caused by a cancerous or non-malignant tumor in your spine. If this is the case, the tumor would need to be biopsied and tested for cancer as soon as possible to determine if further treatment is necessary.

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