Causes of back pain
Back pain affects 4 out of 5 people at some point in their life. It is most likely in those aged between 25 and 55 although it can occur at any age. These factors also put you more at risk:
- Having a sedentary lifestyle
- Being overweight
- Sitting at a desk for long periods
- Regularly carrying heavy loads
- There is also good evidence now that genetics have a role in a person developing pain.
Pain is most common in the lower back although it can occur anywhere along your spine from the neck to the hips. You may also have symptoms in your arms and legs, such as severe pain, numbness, tingling or weakness.
Most causes of back pain are easily treatable. However as pain may a symptom of a more serious disease, any persistent backache should always be investigated.
In the neck
The cervical area is at high risk from damage caused by strong and sudden head movements (such as whiplash-type injuries). There is limited muscle support and coupled with the weight of the head and lack of support from the relatively small, thin set of bones and soft tissues neck injuries are common in road traffic accidents and contact sports.
In the mid back
Upper back pain in the thoracic spine is not as common as neck pain or low back pain as this area doesn't move as much, so there aren't as many injuries associated with overuse. The most common issue in this area is spinal deformities such as scoliosis and kyphosis.
In the lower back
The lumbar spine bears much of the body's weight so is particularly vulnerable to pain and injury. Herniated discs are a common problem, alongside a narrowing of the spinal cord, which can put pressure on the nerve roots and cause pain.
Red Flag symptoms
If you have any of the following 'red flag' warning symptoms seek immediate advice from your doctor. Suffering from these symptoms doesn't automatically mean you need an urgent operation - however you do need a full medical assessment.
- Back pain is constant and getting worse
- Back pain is in the upper part of the spine
- Younger than 20 or older than 55 and getting back pain for the first time
- Back pain and drug abuser, or HIV infected
- Back pain and generally unwell or feverish
- Back pain with significant, unexplained weight loss
- Back pain with persistent difficulty bending forwards
- Back pain after a violent injury, such as a road traffic accident
- Back pain and cancer in the past or at present
- Loss of sensation (especially of the area that would sit on a saddle), loss of power, urinary or bowel incontinence
- Back pain with obvious structural deformity of the spine
- Debilitating back pain - not reducing after four to six weeks
- Back pain and taking (Cortico) steroids