Back pain affects 80% of the population, but not in the same way.
Back pain is one of the most common health conditions in the country, affecting about 80 percent of the population at least once in their lives, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Although this is a commonly shared condition, the type of back pain experienced by each person varies widely.
“I see a lot of patients with back pain,” says Kaliq Chang, MD, pain specialist in New Jersey. “They come from a variety of causes. It’s important to determine the reasons for their particular pain to properly treat them.”
The lower back is the most common area affected, which has a lot to do with how our bodies move and work. “That’s where most of the weight and strain of the body is,” says Dr. Chang.
Here are the most common types of back pain—and what causes them:
Back sprain is “inflammation or damage to the ligaments that connect the bones,” says Dr. Chang.
Back strain is damage to the tendons or muscles of the back. Sprains and strains are usually caused by overuse, such as excessive stretching or improperly lifting.
Disc degeneration is when the rubbery discs that cushion the vertebrae of the spine begin to shrink and lose integrity, according to the Arthritis Foundation. This can cause pain as the vertebrae rub against each other and there’s nothing to absorb the force.
Herniated disc is when the soft inner portion of the disc pushes out from the hard exterior shell. “If you look at the disc like a jelly doughnut, there’s a tough outer portion, and a soft inner portion, like the jelly,” says Dr. Chang. “When there’s an injury or tear on the outside of the doughnut, the soft inner portion [the jelly] can push out.”
Scoliosis is an abnormal curvature of the spine. It often causes the spine to form into C or S shapes, and is most common during periods of rapid growth, like during puberty, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. If this puts “unbalanced pressure” on one part of the spine, this can cause pain, according to Dr. Chang.
Spondylolisthesis is a crack in one of the vertebrae caused by injury, which weakens the bone until it shifts out of place of the spine, according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. It’s common in adolescent athletes—especially gymnasts, weight lifters, and football players—due to the repeated stress on the lower back.
Spinal stenosis is “a narrowing of the canal where the spinal cord nerves are,” says Dr. Chang. The narrowing can be caused by degenerative or herniated discs.
Arthritis of the spine is a breakdown of the joint and disc cartilage in the neck and lower back. Common forms of arthritis that lead to back pain are osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, and ankylosing spondylitis.
Injuries from trauma (such as a car accident or falling) are common causes of back pain. A traumatic injury can overly compress the spine, leading to a herniated disc, or put pressure on spinal cord nerves, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“Most causes of acute back pain, no matter the cause, will relieve within a few days, if not a few weeks,” says Dr. Chang. “However, it’s when these conditions continue for more than a few weeks that we start to wonder if there’s a deeper underlying cause that we need to determine.”
Dr. Chang is a highly specialized interventional pain management specialist in private practice in New Jersey.
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I see a lot of patients with back pain,
and they come from a variety of causes.
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And it's important to determine
the reasons for their particular pain so
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you properly treat them.
00:00:12,938 --> 00:00:19,354
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The most common area of the spine
that's affected is the low back.
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Naturally because that's where most of
the weight and strain of the body is.
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A sprain of the back is inflammation or
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damage to the ligaments that
connect the bones in the spine.
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A strain is usually talking about the
tendons or muscles that support the spine.
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Sprains and strains often result
as a form of overuse injury.
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Whether there's excessive stretching,
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improperly lifting too heavy of a weight.
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Disc Degeneration is one of those
things that are age related.
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And it happens over time.
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One of the most common causes of low
back pain, and possibly bulge or
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herniate into the spinal canal.
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If you look at the disc
like a jelly doughnut,
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there is a tough outer portion, and
a soft inner portion like the jelly.
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And when there is an injury or
a tear on the outside of the doughnut,
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the soft inner portion can push out.
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And this is what's called
a disc herniation.
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Scoliosis is an abnormal
curvature of the spine.
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It can be left or right.
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And how that causes pain is it puts
unbalanced pressure on one part
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of the spine.
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Another condition of the spine that
we sometimes see causing back pain is
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Spondylolisthesis is usually as
a result of the degenerative process in
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the disc and the joints in the spine.
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However, it can also be caused
through a traumatic injury.
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Another condition in the spine that
can cause pain is spinal stenosis,
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which is a narrowing of the canal
where the spinal cord and nerves are.
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And this can be caused through
degenerative changes of the joints and
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the discs, or
it could be from an acute disc herniation.
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And discs can degenerate just
like any other joint in the body.
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The most common traumatic injuries that
lead to back pain are car accidents,
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exercise or gym injuries.
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Sometimes something as simple as picking
up a baby, or just a comb from the floor.
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There are certain conditions not spine
related that can cause back pain that
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may need to be explored,
including kidney stones,
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problems with the pancreas, and
sometimes even heart attacks.
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It's important to determine
the cause of the back pain.
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Cuz that's going to point us in the
different directions in how we will treat
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Most cases of acute back pain, no matter
the cause, will relieve within a few days,
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if not a few weeks.
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However it's when these
conditions continue for
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more than a few weeks that we start to
wonder if there is a deeper underlying
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cause that we need to determine.
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Back pain facts and statistics. American Chiropractic Association. (Accessed on April 15, 2021 at https://www.acatoday.org/Patients/Health-Wellness-Information/Back-Pain-Facts-and-Statistics.)
Degenerative disc disease. Atlanta, GA: Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed on April 15, 2021 at https://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/degenerative-disc-disease/.)
Low back pain fact sheet. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (Accessed on April 15, 2021 at https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/Fact-Sheets/Low-Back-Pain-Fact-Sheet.)
Scoliosis in children and adolescents. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. (Accessed on April 15, 2021 at https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/scoliosis.)Spondylolysis and spondylolisthesis. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. (Accessed on April 15, 2021 at https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/spondylolysis-and-spondylolisthesis/.)