Most people will have a minor
back problem at one time or another. Our body movements usually do not cause
problems, but it's not surprising that symptoms develop from everyday wear and
tear, overuse, or injury. Back problems and injuries often occur during sports
or recreational activities, work-related tasks, or home projects.
Back pain can cause problems anywhere from the neck to the
tailbone (coccyx). The back includes:
- The bones and joints of the spine (vertebrae ).
discs that separate the vertebrae and absorb shock as
- The muscles and
ligaments that hold the spine together.
Back injuries are the most common cause of back pain.
Injuries frequently occur when you use your back muscles in activities that you
do not do very often, such as lifting a heavy object or doing yard work. Minor
injuries also may occur from tripping, falling a short distance, or excessive
twisting of the spine. Severe back injuries may result from car accidents,
falls from significant heights, direct blows to the back or the top of the
head, a high-energy fall onto the buttocks, or a penetrating injury such as a
Although back pain is often caused by an injury to one
or more of the structures of the back, it may have another cause. Some people
are more likely to develop back pain than others.
Things that increase your risk for back pain and
injury include getting older, having a family history of back pain, sitting for
long periods, lifting or pulling heavy objects, and having a degenerative
disease such as
Low back pain may occur in
children and teenagers, but children and teens are
less likely to see a doctor for low back pain. Although most back problems
occur in adults ages 20 to 50, back problems in
children younger than 20 and adults older than 50 are more
likely to have a serious cause.
Sudden (acute) injuries
Pain from an injury may be
sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury.
Pain from an acute injury usually does not last longer than 6 weeks. Acute
- An injury to the ligaments or muscles in the
back, such as a
sprain or a
- A fracture or dislocation of the
spine. This can cause a spinal cord injury that may lead to permanent
paralysis. It is important to immobilize and transport the injured person
correctly to reduce the risk of permanent paralysis.
- A torn or
ruptured disc. If the tear is large enough, the jellylike material inside the
disc may leak out (herniate) and press against a nerve. See a picture of a
herniated disc .
- Compression of nerves in the lower back
(cauda equina syndrome).
You may not remember a specific injury,
especially if your symptoms began gradually or during everyday activities.
These injuries occur most often from improper movement or posture while
lifting, standing, walking, or sitting, or even while
sleeping. Symptoms can include pain, muscle spasms,
and stiffness. The pain often goes away within 4 weeks without any
Conditions that may cause back problems
Back pain or problems
may not be related to an injury.
- Conditions that weaken the spine, such as
ankylosing spondylitis, osteoarthritis,
spinal stenosis, or
Paget's disease, can cause back pain. These conditions
are most common in older adults. In rare cases, tumors or infections can
develop in or around the spine.
medical conditions can cause pain to spread to the
back from other parts of the body (referred pain). Many health problems that
can cause back pain have nothing to do with the bones, joints, muscles, or
ligaments of the back.
- Spinal deformities such as
kyphosis (Scheuermann's disease), and
spondylolisthesis can cause back
- Chronic pain syndrome caused by a previous injury or
degenerative disease with aging can cause back pain.
Most back pain will get better and go away
by itself in 1 to 4 weeks. Home treatment will often help relieve back pain
that is caused by minor injuries. It is usually a good idea to continue your
regular activities while your back is healing. Avoid heavy lifting and
activities that seem to make your back problems worse.
treatments for a back problem or injury may include first aid measures,
physical therapy, manipulative therapy (such as chiropractic), medicine, and in
some cases, surgery. Treatment depends on:
- The location, type, and severity of the
- Your age, health condition, and activities (such as work,
sports, or hobbies).
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.