Back pain severity and causes range wildly

It’s one of society’s most common medical problems.

The next time you’re struggling to find commonality in a conversation, try pulling out a recent story of when you had back pain. Chances are someone within earshot will be able to chime right in.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), back pain is a very common ailment among Americans. More than one-fourth of U.S. adults experience at least one day of back pain in a three-month period, making it one of society’s most common medical problems, the NIH said.

Back pain is located in either the thoracic (upper back) or in the lumbar (lower back) spine. The pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain that leaves a person incapacitated. It can come on suddenly – as a result of an accident or lifting a heavy object – or can develop over time, the NIH said.

“Back pain may result from a number of causes,” said Mark Kayanja, MD, PhD, an orthopedic spine surgeon at Premier Orthopedics. “The causes may be intrinsic to the back or may result from other systems in the body and be referred to the back. Some of the most common causes of back pain arise from injuries to muscles, ligaments, discs and bones.”

Degenerative conditions of the spine from wear and tear processes of everyday life can lead to the breakdown of the discs, which can lead to pain. There are also conditions such as spinal stenosis that narrow the spinal canal and have an impact on the nerves inside. Health conditions affecting organs in the body such as a kidney stone or large uterine fibroid may also cause back pain, said Dr. Kayanja, who practices with Premier Physician Network.

Acute back pain is pain that comes on suddenly and lasts up to three months. It usually can be resolved on its own through the use of over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen. Chronic back pain is pain that lasts longer than three months. It’s important to be evaluated by a doctor to determine the cause of back pain that is not resolving on its own, Dr. Kayanja said.

There are many factors that place a person at risk for back pain. Those who find themselves in the following categories may want to consider lifestyle changes or initiate a conversation with their doctor:

It comes with age – Back pain is more common as someone ages. Individuals most commonly encounter their first experience with back pain in their 30s or 40s.

It's linked to fitness – Back pain is more common among those who do not engage in physical fitness. Regular exercise – especially that which includes strengthening one's core muscles – can safeguard against some issues that cause back pain.

It can be passed down – Some causes of back pain such as ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the spine, can have a genetic component.

It's affected by weight – A person who is overweight is placing stress on their back more than someone who has a normal body mass index.

It's linked to other diseases – Studies have shown that back pain is linked to some diseases such as arthritis and cancer.

It may be your job – Work that requires lifting, pushing, pulling or twisting the spine can lead to back pain. Likewise, those who are just sitting at a desk all day may experience back pain due to poor posture.

It may be the cigarettes – Smoking robs the body of nutrients that help keep the bones and discs in the back strong. A smoker's cough may also lead to back pain.

For more information on back pain or to find a Premier Physician Network physician near you, visit

Premier Physician Network is one of the largest groups of pediatrics, family medicine, internal medicine, and urgent care practices in southwest Ohio. For more information, go online to

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