What causes Back Pain?

Back pain is extremely common, affecting some four out of five adults at some point in their lives, and in fact is probably the greatest cause of time missed away from work. Back pain can affect people of all ages and be very painful and debilitating.

The spine is made up of many bones which are called vertebrae, attached to these are many muscles which enable the spine to move and flex. In between each vertebrae is a soft disc which acts as a shock absorber within the spine, these discs have a strong outer layer and a soft spongy centre. Running down the centre of the spine is the spinal cord, which contains the nerve highway that sends messages to and from the brain.

Back pain can affect literally anyone of all ages, but it is most common for people to get back pain around the age of 30 or a little older. Many causes of Back Pain come from bad posture and wear-and-tear over time, sprains, etc., and not from disease or damage. For example, how many times have you caught yourself sitting cross-legged, or lifting heavy weights by bending down steeply, twisting too fast, driving in a slouched position, etc? These types of movement and posture, over time, contribute to joints 'slipping' out of place, pelvis missalignment, and consequently a 'twisted' and badly seated spine. The muscles of the back then come under strain, trying to hold things in place, causing pain and further upset to the system.

Of course, some people do suffer from more serious conditions, such as Osteoarthritis which usually occurs in the older generation and which can lead to back pain. A bulging/slipped disc (prolapsed or herniated) can lead to pain which is concentrated in the lower Back area, buttocks, legs or even right down to the ends of the feet at the toes. This can be caused by mechnical failure through too much heavy lifting, health problems such as congenital defects, bone disease as well as cancer. Discogenic Back Pain as it is also termed, refers to the degeneration of the lumbar inter vertebral discs which can also be due to the aging process.
Most pain caused by a prolapsed disc is from nerve irritation due to the 'bulging' disc pressing onto the nerve, this is termed nerve root pain. The associated term Sciatica refers to the symptoms due to nerve root pain such as pain being felt occuring down a leg and often into the feet.

Back pain is either known as Acute or Chronic (lower Back Pain ofen called Lumbago). Acute Back pain is where the pain has come on suddenly, and usually lasts for under two or three months. Chronic Back Pain on the other hand develops more gradually, and lasts for perhaps over a year, usually causing much longer term problems.
It's not all bad news however, as back pain generally does improve over time and doesn't necessarily mean the start of a life in continuous pain.