5 Most Common Back Pain Causes

Millions of adults and adolescents around the world suffer from back pain ranging from mild to acute back pain. Some pain is chronic, some comes and go and other types of back pain come on suddenly. Back pain can occur in the neck, the upper and middle back, legs and buttocks, however the primary offender is lower back pain. With so many different forms of back pain, there are many factors and medical conditions that can be at the root.

Diagnosing the cause of back pain is the first step in getting proper treatment. It is important to identify the symptoms as specifically as possible in order to ensure a correct diagnosis. 


One of the most common causes of back pain is trauma or shock. This can occur from a variety of factors such as a sports injury, a sprained or pulled muscle or even an auto accident. This trauma can come on quickly with instant trauma or it can begin slowly over time due to unnoticed damage or an undiagnosed back problem. If the ligaments tear or stretch, or if a tendon moves faster than it should, trauma to the back muscles can occur.

In some instances trauma can occur to repetitive movements that can damage the back muscles. A forceful trauma such as those that might occur during football or rugby, may also cause trauma to different areas in the back. Often it isn’t the injury itself that causes the trauma, but rather your body’s survival instinct to protect itself by tightening.

Muscle Imbalance

Lower back pain and discomfort commonly found when the sciatic nerve is compressed is mostly due to an imbalance of the muscles. Since most back pain sufferers tend to think of sciatica as a problem rather than a symptom of a larger problem, it never occurs to them that weak muscles play a large part. A muscle imbalance occurs when the back muscles on one side are weaker than the adjacent side, pulling the body out of its proper alignment.

A muscle imbalance causes back pain due to being worked too much or too little, which means those who work out a lot and those who lead sedentary lives are equally susceptible to a muscle imbalance. An undiagnosed muscle imbalance can wreak havoc on posture, which leads to even more severe back pain.

Herniated Discs

Chances are good that you or someone close to you has suffered from a herniated, or bulging spinal disc. When the discs that act as a cushion between the vertebra begin to protrude out or leak, they will harden and dry and succumb to the aging process. Herniated discs can occur due to an injury or trauma as well as deterioration due to aging, but common movements such as twisting can also be a cause trauma to the spine.

If you regularly participate in heavy lifting, this can cause pressure on the spinal column that will, over time, lead to back pain. A herniated or bulging disc can affect more than simply lower back pain. In some instances it has been known to compress the sciatic nerve, which can lead to sciatica and pain extended from the lower back down the hip and leg.


Although often misdiagnosed, sciatica is a legitimate problem to back pain sufferers and it is quite common. The sciatic nerve is one of the largest in the human body, and when pinched or compressed can cause excruciating pain in the lower back all the way down to the toes. Common sciatica symptoms include a shooting or radiating pain in the lower back, and usually it occurs down one leg. In rare cases sciatica symptoms can be felt in both legs simultaneously.

In fact chances are good that if you have suffered from chronic back pain, you have had to deal with sciatica at some point in your life. It is important to remember that sciatica is a symptom of a larger problem—such as a herniated disc—and not the problem itself. Some of the problems that sciatica may be a symptom of include;

  • Foraminal stenosis
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Spinal narrowing or expanding

Degenerative Diseases

The older we get the more susceptible we are to the aging process, which means our joints, muscles and spine are at greater risk for back problems. This is particularly true if you have suffered from chronic or persistent back pain throughout your adult life.

Lower back pain can occur due to degenerative diseases such as spinal arthritis and osteoporosis, which occurs because of a breakdown of cartilage or bone thinning. This cartilage cushions the joints the same way the discs cushion the vertebra, and when it breaks down over time, back pain is the end result.

If you have experienced any of these symptoms of back pain, it is time to go see the doctor. You need an accurate diagnosis for effective treatment rather than simply guessing at the problem and trying treatments that don’t work. 

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Filed Under: Back Pain
Written By:  Updated:
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Jesse Cannone, CFT, CPRS, MFT

Jesse is the co-founder and visionary CEO of The Healthy Back Institute®, the world-leading source of natural back pain solutions. His mission as a former back pain sufferer is to help others live pain free without surgery and pharmaceuticals.

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