Injury, wear and tear and the normal ageing process are by far the most common causes of back pain.
- Muscle sprains and strains
In 95 percent of cases of back pain, the cause is linked to the way the bones, ligaments and muscles of your back work together. Although the pain usually comes on suddenly, it is usually due to strain over time rather than the result of you overdoing it just once.
- Nerve problems
Many people who have back pain often talk about having a "slipped disc". But disc problems actually aren't that common and never happen because the disc has "slipped". It has usually torn and become distorted (prolapsed or herniated) so that is presses against sensitive nerves from the spinal cord. Sometimes a prolapsed disc in your lower back can press on the exiting nerve that forms part of the sciatic nerve, causing pain that runs down one leg. Sometimes a prolapsed disc can also cause numbness or tingling in a small area of your leg or foot. This pain is known as sciatica.
Triggers for back pain
- Poor posture.
- Lack of exercise.
- Standing or bending down for long periods.
- Sitting in a chair that doesn't provide enough back support.
- Sleeping on a mattress that doesn't provide enough back support.
- Lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling loads that are simply too heavy, or going about these tasks in the wrong way.
- A trip or a fall.
Most attacks of back pain are not caused by a serious medical condition and last only a few days, subsiding as the body heals. However if your pain prompts you to seek help from your doctor, he or she may want to rule out any one of the following:
Who is at risk?
Anyone can have back pain, although there are a number of factors that can increase your risk. They include:
- Your age
You are most likely to have back trouble between the ages of 30 and 50.
- Your fitness
Back pain is more common among people who are not physically fit. If you are fit, your muscles will be strong and flexible and your bones will be stronger, too.
- What you eat
A diet high in calories and fat, combined with an inactive lifestyle, can lead to weight gain and obesity, which can put stress on your back.
Some causes of back pain, including disc disease, may have a genetic component.
- Occupational risk factors
Having a job that requires heavy lifting, pushing, or pulling, particularly when this involves twisting or vibrating the spine, can lead to injury and back pain. A desk job may also lead to or contribute to pain, especially if you have poor posture or sit all day in an uncomfortable chair.
- Cigarette smoking
Although smoking may not directly cause back pain, it increases your risk of developing low back pain. For example, smoking may lead to pain by blocking your body's ability to deliver nutrients to the discs of the lower back. Or, repeated coughing due to heavy smoking may cause back pain.
If you're a smoker you may be less physically fit or healthy than a non-smoker, which increases the likelihood you will develop back pain. Smoking can also slow healing, prolonging pain for people who have had back injuries, back surgery, or broken bones.