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Lower Back Pain Causes & Facts

Back pain facts and most common causes.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide. Regardless of gender, 80% of people will experience an episode of back pain at least once in their life, with the elderly being the most affected. Back pain is the second most common cause of doctor visits and missed work after the common cold. Back pain costs Americans over $50 billion in pain treatment. When you count indirect costs such as lost wages and productivity, along with legal and insurance overhead, expenses rise to $100 billion.

Back pain is classified as chronic when it persists for 12 weeks or longer. About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year. In some cases, treatment successfully relieves chronic low back pain; in other cases, pain persists despite medical and surgical treatment.


Most Common Causes of Back Pain

  • Muscle or ligament strains/sprains: account for most acute back pain. A strain injury is a tear in tendon or muscle, and a sprain injury is caused by overstretching or tearing ligaments. Both can occur from twisting or lifting something improperly, lifting something too heavy, or overstretching. Such movements may also trigger spasms in back muscles, which can also be painful.
  • Herniated discs: can occur when the intervertebral discs become compressed and bulge outward (herniation) or rupture, causing low back pain.
  • Traumatic injury: such as from playing sports, car accidents, or a fall can injure tendons, ligaments, or muscles, resulting in low back pain. Traumatic injury may also cause the spine to become overly compressed, which in turn can cause a disc to rupture or herniate. The disc can exert pressure on the nerves attached to the spinal cord. When spinal nerves become compressed and irritated, back pain and sciatica may result.  
  • Skeletal Irregularities: scoliosis, a curvature of the spine that does not usually cause pain until middle age; lordosis, an abnormally accentuated arch in the lower back; and other congenital anomalies of the spine.
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