What Is It?
Back pain can be a symptom of many different illnesses and conditions. The main cause of the pain can be a problem with the back itself or by a problem in another part of the body. In many cases, doctors can't find a cause for the pain. When a cause is found, common explanations include:
- Stress or injury involving the back muscles, including back sprain or strain; chronic overload of back muscles caused by obesity; and short term overload of back muscles caused by any unusual stress, such as lifting or pregnancy
- Disease or injury involving the back bones (vertebrae), including fracture from an accident or as a result of the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis
- Degenerative arthritis, a "wear and tear" process that may be related to age, injury and genetic predisposition.
- Disease or injury involving the spinal nerves, including nerve injury caused by a protruding disk (a fibrous cushion between vertebrae) or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal)
- Kidney stones or a kidney infection (pyelonephritis)
- Inflammatory arthritis, including ankylosing spondylitis and related conditions
- A spinal tumor or a cancer that has spread (metastasized) to the spine from elsewhere in the body
- Infection, which may be in the disk space, bone (osteomyelitis), abdomen, pelvis or bloodstream
Rarer causes include:
Back pain varies widely. Some symptoms (often called "red flag" symptoms) may suggest that the back pain has a more serious cause. These include fever, recent trauma, weight loss, a history of cancer and neurological symptoms, such as numbness, weakness or incontinence (involuntary loss of urine or stool).