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Maj Spencer
The causes of back pain can include injuries, mechanical problems, disease, or even stress. Dr. Patel, can you tell us more about some of these causes of back pain?

Dr. Patel
Sure, Major Spencer. Although the direct cause of low back pain is not always clear, most back pain tends to originate in the working parts of the back, such as the muscles, ligaments, or small joints.

Injuries that can cause back pain include sprains or fractures that result from accidents, falls, athletic activities, or overworking the back muscles. Sprains are damage to the ligaments that support the spine, and they can occur from twisting or improper lifting. Fractured vertebrae are often the result of osteoporosis, a condition that causes weak, porous bones.

Mechanical problems involve the way the spine moves or the way a person feels when they move their spine in certain ways. One common mechanical problem is a condition called intervertebral disc degeneration, which means that the discs between the vertebrae are breaking down with age. As they deteriorate, the discs can lose the ability to cushion the vertebrae, which can lead to pain if the back is stressed. It’s important to note, however, that disc deterioration is common as we age, and deteriorating discs don’t always cause low back pain.

Other mechanical causes of back pain include:

  • Spasms
  • Muscle tension, and
  • Ruptured, or herniated, discs

Although the causes of back pain are usually physical, it’s important to know that emotional stress can play a role in how severe pain is and how long it lasts. Stress can affect the body in many ways, including causing back muscles to become tense and painful.

Between 80 and 90 percent of all low back pain is “mechanical” in nature and is easily diagnosed through a comprehensive history and physical examination. Very rarely will x-rays, MRI, or other tests shed additional light on the diagnoses.