Anyone who has ever suffered the misery of back pain knows how urgent it is to get relief. Once you are free from the pain, most people will learn as much as they can about their sore back to try to prevent back problems from arising again.

One thing is for sure, the pain in a memorable one, and the majority of people will experience it at some point in their lives.

Back pain can vary from person to person, type to type, and region to region, such as the upper, middle and lower back. It can be a dull, constant ache or sudden sharp pain like a dagger that makes it almost too painful to move. It can start quickly if you fall, get a sports injury, or lift something too heavy. Or it might worsen over time, getting progressively worse.

What is back pain and how common is it?

Back pain can occur for a range of reasons that are either structural, musculoskeletal, nerve-based, or a sign of an underlying disorder. Most back pain is structural or musculoskeletal and the nerves can be affected by changes in the structure of the spine.

The spine is a complex system of interlocking bones and joints called vertebrae. The spinal column extends from the base of our skull all the way down to the tailbone at our pelvis, the coccyx. The many vertebrae that make up the spine are labeled in terms of area, and each is given a number so that all doctors know which they are referring to if there are any issues with the back that need to be dealt with.

Most people experience lower back pain. Up to 80% of the population will have it at least once in their lives.

It tends to occur in older people and can increase with age, but of course anyone can get back pain due to injury. The prevalence varies with gender. Women are more likely to have lower back pain, a prolapsed or slipped disc, and sciatica, that is, pain in the sciatic nerves that run from the back down to the lower leg.

What are the main causes of back pain?

Injury is the most common cause of back pain. It is often related to picking up things in such a way as to harm the spine, its nerves, or the muscles around it. For example, many people trying to lift a heavy object with bend over it with their arms straight and try to pull it towards their chest. This strains the muscles, especially in the lower back.

Anyone can have back pain, but some things that can increase your risk include:

  • Poor physical fitness

Back pain is more common in people who are not fit. A solid core will strengthen the back as well.

  • Being overweight

Carrying extra pounds, especially around the middle, can stress the back and cause pain. It is also usually a sign of a flabby core, and flabby muscles are weak and more prone to injury.

  • Heredity

Some causes of back pain can have a genetic component and run in families.

  • Various health issues

Some types of arthritis and cancer can cause back pain. Osteoporosis, a thinning of the bones, can also result in hairline fractures, bone spurs and other structural changes that can cause back pain.

  • Smoking tobacco

Smokers with bone injuries heal around twice as slowly as non-smokers. One of the reasons may be that they do not circulate enough nutrients in the body to be able to heal bones and support good back health. As they age, their bones can become so brittle that smoker’s cough can trigger back pain and even injury.

  • Your job

If you have to lift, push, or pull often in your job, you are more at risk for injury. Many companies offer their workers braces to support the spine, but they need to be worn correctly in order to do any good.

If you sit at a desk all day and do not sit up straight, you may also get back pain. This will most commonly be in the lower part of the back, since this takes so much pressure and weight when you are sitting, but it can also occur in the neck, shoulders and middle of the back as well.

Lower back pain is one of the most common causes of pain, poor quality of life and lost productivity in the workplace. Chronic back pain can affect every area of your life, including work, sleep, sex, caring for your children, and more.

Fortunately, there are a range of ways to prevent back issues, and to treat them if they do arise. These include natural remedies, medications, and in extreme cases, surgery. The treatments will depend on the cause of the pain.

Sometimes the cause is very obvious, such as an injury. In other cases, the pain is real, but might require a process of elimination to determine where it is coming from and why.

Let’s look at different kinds of back pain in the next blog.