Back pain -- causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment

Suffering from a back pain? Here is everything you might need to know about the condition.

Back painBack pain is something most of us suffer from at some point in our lives. While some aches may be acute (sudden and quick to subside) others may be the start of a chronic condition. Here is all you need to know about back pain and what it could probably indicate.

What is back pain?

Back pain is a fairly common condition that most people suffer from these days. Medically the condition is as one where the person experiences pain or discomfort in any part of the back. Incidentally, the lower back is a place where most people suffer from pain, commonly caused due to improper posture or strain.

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Why does it happen?

The human back is made of a number of elements vertebrae, muscles, nerves, intervertebral discs and the spinal column. When either one of these components is injured, strained or is out of alignment it leads to back pain. Often in the case of a back pain the pain can radiate to other adjoining areas like the abdomen, flanks, down the legs or around the buttocks. In cases where the back pain is higher up, (just below the neck) it can lead to pain down the arms and in the shoulders.

Who is at risk?

Women and pregnant women are most likely to suffer from back pain. This is usually due to a change in posture and excessive pressure on the back.

Old age is also another factor As people age their bones and muscles tend to become weaker and more worn out, leading to back pain.

Obesity People who are obese usually suffer from this condition due to the fact that their weight puts a lot of pressure on the area. Another reason for this is that obesity also leads to a drastic alteration in one's hormonal levels; which might sometimes lead to leeching of bone mass making them brittle and more prone to displacement and pain.

A sedentary lifestyle When you don't exercise or sit for long periods of time, the back becomes inactive and increasingly weak. This can also lead to back pain.

Strenuous physical activity This is observed among people who do strenuous activities repeatedly that require bending at the back. The repeated action and constant wear and tear of the back can lead to back pain. Apart from that doing an activity improperly can also lead to the same symptom. For example, bending to pick up a heavy object.

Anxiety and depression According to a study published in the Spine Journal{1}, anxiety and depression was linked to back pain. Although the exact reason for this bizarre correlation is still to be studied, the researchers found that people with depression and anxiety reported more incidences of back pain.

What are the common causes of this condition?

The most common reasons for a back pain is usually bad posture, abrupt or awkward movements, lifting things with bad posture, straining your back, etc. But apart from that, there are some conditions that can lead to back pain. Some of them are:

Ruptured disk: This is a condition where the intervertibral disk gets ruptured or torn due to strain or injury. When this disk (that cushions the area between the vertebrae) is injured in any way it can put pressure in the nerves leading to back pain.

Bulging disk: This is where the disc has been compressed and bulges leading to a compression of nerves.

Sciatica: This is a condition where the patient experiences a sharp shooting pain down the back and buttocks. Read more about sciatica.

Arthritis: In people with arthritis, their bones are already a little brittle and in a state of degeneration. It is commonly seem that those suffering from osteoarthritis commonly suffer from back pain.

Abnormal curvature of the spine: This is where the spinal column, instead of being straight is curved in either direction. One condition where an abnormal curvature of the spine is seen is scoliosis.

Osteoporosis: Also known as brittle bone disease, this condition can also lead to a back pain.

Cauda equina syndrome: This is a condition where the spinal nerves form a bundle at the base of the spine. This condition leads to pain, tingling and in some cases numbness down the buttocks and spine.

Apart from these other conditions like cancer of the spine, infections of the spine, pelvic inflammatory disease, shingles and a bad mattress can all lead to a back pain.

What are the symptoms?

The most obvious symptom is back pain , but along with that there are symptoms like tingling down the arms or legs, pain radiating to the front of the body, numbness down the buttocks or legs, weakness of the legs or hands, inability to grip properly and bend or look around also could be symptoms of something more serious.

How is the condition diagnosed?

The diagnosis of the reason for a back pain usually involves a physical examination, MRI, X-ray or CT scan (depending on the structure that is thought to be causing the pain). In severe cases a bone scan and EMG may be required. While a bone scan checks for the strength of the bone's involved the EMG scan (Electromyography) involves testing for function of the nerves around the area.


The treatment for a back is usually based on the cause for the condition. In some case you may be required to take painkillers or NSAID (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) to help with the pain. Other treatment modalities include surgery which is mainly done to correct the defect causing the pain. Apart from that you also may be advised to get physiotherapy to help heal an injured back.

How can the condition be prevented?

The prevention of a back pain is fairly simple. Here are some methods:

  1. Make sure your posture is correct and safe for your back. Avoid slouching and keep your back straight at all times.
  2. While picking up heavy objects make sure you bend at your knees to pick up the material. That way you will use your thigh muscles to lift the object rather than the muscles of your back.
  3. Sleep on a comfortable bed and make sure your pillow is not too high.
  4. Exercise regularly. This will ensure the muscles of your back are strengthened and will prevent the onset of injury.
  5. Eat healthy foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals especially calcium. This will slow down the loss of calcium from your bone's and keep them strong.

Read more about causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of back pain.


{1} Epidemiologic Studies of Low-Back Pain -

{2} Medical news today

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