Back pain is a common complaint. Most people in the United States will experience low back pain at least once during their lives, and it is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work.
Muscle or Ligament Strain
Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement may strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If you’re in poor physical condition, constant strain on your back may cause painful muscle spasms.
Bulging Disc (also called protruding, herniated, or ruptured disc)
The intervertebral discs of your back are under constant pressure. As discs degenerate and weaken over time, cartilage can bulge or be pushed into the space containing the spinal cord or a nerve root, causing pain. Most herniated discs occur in the lower (lumbar) portion of the spinal column.
Cauda Equina Syndrome
Cauda Equina Syndrome is a much more serious complication of a ruptured disc which occurs when disc material is pushed into the spinal canal and compresses the bundle of lumbar and sacral nerve roots. Permanent neurological damage may result if this syndrome is left untreated.
Sciatica is a condition in which there is pain caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve, the large nerve that extends from the spinal column through the pelvis and into the leg. This condition causes a shock-like or burning low back pain that “radiates” through the buttock and down one leg, occasionally reaching as far as the foot. In the most extreme cases, the symptoms involve not pain but numbness and some loss of muscular/motor control over the leg due to interruption of nerve signaling. Sciatica is typically caused by irritation of the the spinal nerve roots by conditions such as herniated discs, degenerative disc disease and lumbar spinal stenosis. Less frequently, sciatica can also be caused by a tumor, cyst, metastatic disease, or degeneration of the sciatic nerve root.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Spinal degeneration resulting from disc wear and tear can result in a loss of disc height and the formation of bony spurs. This process can lead to a narrowing of the spinal canal, called spinal stenosis. A person with spinal degeneration may experience stiffness in the back upon awakening or may feel pain after walking or standing for too long. Similarly, spinal stenosis related to congenital narrowing of the bony canal predisposes some people to pain related to disc disease.
Arthritis and Back Pain
Osteoarthritis can also affect the other (non-disc) spinal joints of the back and neck. In some cases, arthritis in the spine can also lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord and/or nerve roots resulting in spinal stenosis.
Musculoskeletal Back Pain
Skeletal irregularities produce strain on the vertebrae and supporting muscles, tendons, ligaments, and tissues connected to the spinal column. These irregularities might include scoliosis, a curving of the spine to the side; kyphosis, in which the normal curve of the upper back is severely rounded; or “hyperlordosis”, an abnormally pronounced arch in the lower back.
Spondylitis is a general term that refers to chronic back pain and stiffness caused by infection or inflammation of the spinal joints. Other painful inflammations in the lower back include osteomyelitis (infection in the bones of the spine) and sacroiliitis (inflammation in the sacroiliac joints).