You may not remember injuring your back—but your back certainly does, and the pain is trying to tell you something. Or you may not know that something is wrong with your spine until a stressful movement aggravates the condition. Some common causes of back pain include:
- Aging: Ligaments thicken and discs dry out with age—that’s just part of what happens to us as we grow older. These age-related changes in the spine may lead to disorders that create pressure on your spinal nerves—meaning that you’ll have symptoms such as pain, numbness, or weakness. Degenerative disc disease is an example of an age-related spinal disorder. Over time, your discs can lose their normal structure and function. That is just wear and tear, but it can result in a bulging disc or a herniated disc and pain.
Sometimes, the bulging or herniated disc can push on a nerve, causing pain that travels to another part of your body. For example, a herniated disc could push on a nerve in your low back and send a shooting pain down your leg (also known as sciatica). Pain that travels from the origin to another part of your body is called radiculopathy. You can experience cervical radiculopathy, which affects your arms mainly, or lumbar radiculopathy, which affects your legs.
- Daily Life: Just getting through every day takes its toll on your body. Stress and emotional tension can cause muscles to tighten and contract, resulting in pain and stiffness. Since we carry most of our weight in our backs, that’s where we can feel the end result of tense daily living: tight muscles and painful movements.
Also, the way you’re getting through your day could be the cause of your back pain. Poor posture—standing for long periods of time or sitting incorrectly—can cause back pain (so watch out while you’re at the office). Low back pain is often associated with heavy physical work, lifting or forceful movement, bending or twisting, or awkward positions. If you don’t use proper lifting techniques while hefting a box of books, for example, you can really hurt your back.
Also, a condition called sacroiliac joint dysfunction can cause back pain and make it difficult for you to do daily activities, such as sitting, standing and walking.
Even healthy, normal activities can cause muscle sprains and strains, which can lead to back pain. Gardening, tennis, horseback riding, biking, and even golf can all potentially hurt your back.
- Injuries and Accidents: You can fracture a spinal bone in a fall or a car accident. If you have osteoporosis, a condition that weakens your bones, you’re much more prone to fracturing a bone.
You can have a sports-related injury, such as pain caused by being tackled too many times in football. These are the sudden, unexpected causes of back pain that most likely require immediate medical attention.
- Obesity: Being overweight puts pressure and stress on the back, especially the low back. Plus, carrying excess weight aggravates other health conditions such as osteoporosis (weak bones), osteoarthritis (joint pain), rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disease), degenerative disc disease (described above in the aging section), spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis.