Back pain is the leading cause of disability for people under the age of 45. It affects millions of American and can make basic activities difficult to perform. It has many causes and just as many treatments, but the important things to note in diagnosing the cause of your back pain are your age, the pain’s locations, and any recent injuries you might have incurred.
Believe it or not, your emotions play a major role in your overall health and well-being. Stress can lead to many health problems in the heart, digestive system, brain, and of course the back. It causes muscle tension and can work to increase rates of deterioration as it negatively affects blood flow. Depression and anxiety have similar effects and can cause back pain as easily as they can enhance the severity of it.
Lifestyle is often the most likely cause of back pain in young and/or otherwise healthy people. When you do something that aggravates the spine or muscles around it or don’t do enough to support that area, back pain can occur. Primary causes:
- Footwear: With high-heels specifically, back pain is highly likely. The way your feet touch the ground naturally ensures your spine remains aligned but forcing your heels so much higher than the balls of your feet forces the spine to curve more than it is accustomed to as the thighs and hip flexors strain to compensate.
- Heavy lifting: Your back carries all of your weight already, and when you add too much more by lifting something beyond what it is capable of lifting, you can injure your back, leading to any number of the causes listed under spine-related injuries.
- Lack of exercise: Many professionals encourage a focus on building strength in the core as it is vital to keeping you upright no matter what activity you’re engaged in. This area undergoes a lot of strain, so building up your core muscles is important. If those muscles are not properly taken care of, it can lead to back pain, especially through other problems like slouching.
- Slouching: Your back is designed to work a very specific way. Though slouching can feel easier, it is almost always harder on the spine and its alignment. Poor posture can cause wear and tear and lead to back pain in almost any region of the back depending on the severity of poor posture.
- Smoking: Believe it or not, smoking can lead to back pain as easily as it can lead to any number of other medical issues. The nicotine in cigarettes, cigars, etc. restricts blood flow to parts of the body like the spinal discs. This leads to increased rates of degeneration in the cushions that support your spine’s vertebrae.
- Weight: Your weight has a huge impact on your life, including the health of your back. Your back is charged with holding all of your weight upright, and when there is too much weight to bare, it can cause back pain. The only way to truly treat this cause is through weight loss.
Unless you’ve recently incurred an injury, it isn’t likely that the spine is the cause of your pain. If you have, it’s important that you see a specialist at facilities like Lansing Neurosurgery right away as the problem can become worse and permanent damage can occur.
In addition to many nerves, the spine is made up of multiple vertebrae and discs, which separate each joint to cushion them, absorb shock, and make movement possible. Most spine-related back pain can be linked to the discs and nerves of the spine, and it’s important to learn the exact cause to treat it:
- Bulging discs: This happens when one of the discs between the joins “bulges”, though not as much as herniated and slipped discs will. It rarely causes pain unless the bulging disc presses against a nerve, but it should still be taken seriously.
- Cervical radiculopathy: Herniates discs and bone spurs (a bone-like growth that forms on the normal bone) can cause cervical radiculopathy, which is essentially a pinched nerve.
- Degenerative disc disease: In degenerative disc disease, the discs either shrink or tear, allowing the bones to rub together. This is more common as people age.
- Fractures (spine and vertebral fractures): A fracture is characterized by a break in the bone caused by a fall, hit, or other causes like osteoporosis, which weakens the bones and makes them vulnerable to breakage.
- Herniated/slipped discs: The spine goes through a lot of wear and tear, and this can result in herniated or slipped discs, a disc that has come out of place. These cause pain in the lower back and hip area as they press against surrounding nerves.
- Injury: Spinal injuries can result from any number of accidents, and sometimes lead to physical issues that cause pain. Common causes include car accidents, sprains, back strain, falls, and fractures.
- Sacroiliac joint problems: Though the sacroiliac joint does not move much, it can still experience wear and inflammation. This joint can be located where the pelvis and spine meet and helps shift the weight of the upper body to the lower body. The joint’s cartilage can experience wear or swelling due to arthritis, after injury, because of infection, or from pregnancy.
- Spasms: Spasms occur when the muscles and tendons in the lower back tear. These are usually caused by sport-related injuries, including excessive weightlifting.
- Spinal stenosis: Mostly affecting people over 60-year-old, spinal stenosis can be characterized by the narrowing of the spinal canal, which can lead to sensations of numbness in the legs and shoulders as pressure increases on the spine.
- Spondylolisthesis: Typically occurring in the lower section of the back, spondylolisthesis is characterized by a bone in the spine slipping out of place, often forward. In its degenerative form, this condition is called arthritis, which is characterized by the weakening of the joints and ligaments that keep the spine in alignment. It can even lead to a slipped disc that moves forward over a vertebra.
- Sprains and Strain: These are characterized by injuries to the ligaments, muscles, and/or tendons of the spine and its joints. Most frequently, this occurs when you try to lift something too heavy and twist at the same time, pushing the spine to work in a way it normally wouldn’t. Other causes include accidents and sports-related injuries.
Various Other Causes
Though the above make up the majority of back pain’s causes, a few more still exist:
- Ankylosing spondylitis: This is a type of arthritis, which you can read more about below, that specifically affects the joints and ligaments of the spine.
- Arthritis: Causing swelling, inflammation, and stiffness in the back, arthritis most often affects older people or those who have suffered injuries.
- Endometriosis: Though pain in the lower back is not always a symptom of endometriosis, it is still important to note on this list. Endometriosis is characterized by a buildup of uterine tissue outside of the uterus and can be extremely painful. Pain is often enhanced by menstruation, intercourse, and urination and bowel movements.
- Fibromyalgia: Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread muscle pain, and often affects the joints. As the spine is made up of many joints, the back can be one of the worst affected areas, especially near the neck, shoulders, and hips. Pain can range from deep and aching to burning or stabbing.
- Kidney stones: Kidney stones often cause back pain when they move within the kidney or through the tube connecting the kidney and bladder, the ureter. The pain is usually located closer to the side and back, but below the ribs, and often spreads to the lower abdomen and groin.
- Osteoarthritis: This causes the degeneration of the joints and occurs when the cartilage and bones begin to break down. If you are young and otherwise healthy, this likely doesn’t affect you as it primarily occurs in individuals approximately 45 and above.
- Osteomyelitis: Osteomyelitis is the infection of the spine. This typically develops over time, and symptoms include fever, chills, and shakes in addition to back pain.
- Pregnancy: As was mentioned previously, excess weight on the upper half of your body can strain your back. The weight gained from pregnancy is no exception and often leads to back pain.
- Scoliosis: Characterized as a curvature of the spine, scoliosis typically affects people from birth rather than developing over time. Any pain from the disease usually begins in the affected person’s 40s, however.
- Tumors: It is important to note that this case is extremely rare and you should contact a specialist immediately if you are worried you might have one. This is especially true as tumors do not typically originate in the spine, and often spread to the spine from cancer located elsewhere in the body.