Some back pain causes are more common than others.
The most common causes of back pain in patients attending Ross Hall Hospital in Glasgow are muscle strain or ligament sprain, arthritis, sciatica and a slipped (prolapsed) disc.
You can find out more about these common back pain causes in the sections below.
Specific spinal medical conditions that cause back pain
It’s rare for back pain to be a severe medical problem. But some specific medical conditions like these cause back pain and are treated in different ways than non-specific back pain.
Mr Alakandy said: “Most operations are for disc-related problems that give rise to nerve compression and other issues. We don’t operate for back pain — back pain is a symptom. 90% of people with back pain do not have a spinal problem. They have non-specific back pain.”
This degenerative problem as we age describes swelling in the joints in the spine, but pain reduces when you move. It’s often worse when you get up in the morning.
Herniated cervical disc
Also called a ruptured disc. This spinal cord issue happens when the intervertebral discs are compressed and bulge.
Osteoarthritis of the spine (spondylosis)
Osteoarthritis is common in the back and neck and usually starts in the late 40s. Women get it more than men. It is also called spondylosis, which describes the general wear and tear of the spine’s joints, discs and bones as we age.
Bone density and strength get progressively less with osteoporosis, a painful condition that can lead to vertebrae fractures.
Also known as radiculopathy, sciatica is a familiar presentation among people seeking back pain treatments at Ross Hall Hospital. It is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve from the buttocks down the back of the leg.
Scoliosis is a condition that often starts in childhood and can cause back pain in adults. It’s where the vertebrae are twisted and the spine is visibly curved. Scoliosis is called idiopathic scoliosis in cases where the cause is unknown. Congenital scoliosis is where bones in the spine are not adequately formed in the womb.
Slipped (prolapsed) disc
One of the most common reasons people see a consultant at Circle Health Group hospitals is a slipped disc. Arthritis is built up and the spine presses on nerve roots, causing sciatica in the lower limbs and arm pain in the upper limbs (brachialgia).
In spinal stenosis, the spinal column narrows, putting pressure on the spinal cords and nerves. It can be caused by spinal osteoarthritis.
Spondylolisthesis can result when a bone slips out of place in the spine. It causes lower back pain, stiffness, numbness and tingling.
Serious causes of back pain
It happens rarely, but back pain can also be the result of a severe underlying condition.
Some types of cancer can affect the bones in your body and the bone marrow. These bone cancers can affect any bone, including the spine, pelvis, and long bones of the arms and legs. In other cases, a cancerous tumour may be pressing against a nerve or the spinal cord, which results in back pain.
A broken bone
An accident or injury, such as a fall, could cause you to break the bones, called vertebrae, in your spine.
Broken bones can also be due to weakness caused by osteoporosis. This can develop slowly over several years and causes your bones to become fragile and brittle and, therefore, more likely to fracture.
An infection of the spine is rare, but can be extremely painful. It could occur after a recent spinal surgery or if a fungal or bacterial infection spreads through the bloodstream.
Cauda equina syndrome
This disorder affects the nerves found at the lower end of the spinal cord. Loss of nerve function is caused by the nerves being squeezed or compressed by a ruptured disc. It causes dull pain in the lower back and buttocks, numbness or tingling in the legs, and can also result in bladder or bowel control problems.