Your Back

Causes of Back Pain

The causes of back pain can include injuries, mechanical problems, disease, or even stress.

Injuries: Back pain can be caused by injuries such as sprains or fractures that result from accidents, falls, athletic activities, or “overdoing it” around the house or yard. Sprains are damage to the ligaments that support the spine, and they can occur from twisting or lifting improperly. Fractured vertebrae are often the result of osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, porous bones.

Osteoporosis: Bones are made of complex, constantly changing, living tissue. They are able to grow and heal, and are also susceptible to changes in diet, body chemistry, and exercise levels. When people are young, more bone is laid down than is removed by the body. People typically achieve peak bone mass by around age 30, after which more bone is lost than is replaced. Too much bone loss leads to osteoporosis.

Osteoporosis is a thinning of the bones that causes them to become porous and fragile. It affects women more than men, is associated with aging, and progresses more rapidly after menopause. Fortunately, osteoporosis is largely preventable and treatable with such approaches as diet, exercise, medication, and hormone therapy.

Osteoporosis alone does not cause back pain. It can, however, weaken the spine to where it is no longer able to withstand normal stress or minor trauma, resulting in vertebral fracture. It is the ensuing fracture that causes pain. Unfortunately, most people don't know they have osteoporosis until it has progressed.

Mechanical problems: Mechanical problems involve the way your spine moves or the way you feel when you move your spine in certain ways. One of the most common mechanical causes of back pain is a condition called intervertebral disc degeneration, which simply means that the discs between the vertebrae of the spine are breaking down with age. As they deteriorate, the discs can lose the ability to cushion the vertebrae, which can lead to pain if the back is stressed. Other mechanical causes of back pain include: spasms, muscle tension, and ruptured discs, which are also called herniated discs.

Stress: Although the causes of back pain are usually physical, it is important to know that emotional stress can play a role in how severe pain is and how long it lasts. Stress can affect the body in many ways, including causing back muscles to become tense and painful.