Understanding Back Pain and Its Causes

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Understanding Back Pain and Its Causes

Fast Facts

Back pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain that makes it hard to move. It can start quickly if you fall or lift something too heavy, or it can get worse slowly.

Who Gets Back Pain?

Anyone can have back pain, but some things that increase your risk are:

  • Getting older. Back pain is more common the older you get. You may first have back pain when you are 30 to 40 years old.
  • Poor physical fitness. Back pain is more common in people who are not fit.
  • Being overweight. A diet high in calories and fat can make you gain weight. Too much weight can stress the back and cause pain.
  • Some causes of back pain, such as ankylosing spondylitis, a form of arthritis that affects the spine, can have a genetic component.
  • Other diseases. Some types of arthritis and cancer can cause back pain.
  • Your job. If you have to lift, push, or pull while twisting your spine, you may get back pain. If you work at a desk all day and do not sit up straight, you may also get back pain.
  • Your body may not be able to get enough nutrients to the disks in your back if you smoke. Smoker’s cough may also cause back pain. People who smoke are slow to heal, so back pain may last longer.
  • Another factor is race. For example, African American women are two to three times more likely than white women to have part of the lower spine slip out of place.

When Should I See a Doctor for Pain?

You should see a doctor if you have:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Severe pain that does not improve with rest
  • Pain after a fall or an injury
  • Pain plus any of these problems:
      • Trouble urinating
      • Weakness
      • Numbness in your legs
      • Fever
      • Weight loss when not on a diet.

 How Is Back Pain Diagnosed?

To diagnose back pain, your doctor will take your medical history and do a physical exam. Your doctor may order other tests, such as:

  • X rays
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Blood tests.

Medical tests may not show the cause of your back pain. Many times, the cause of back pain is never known. Back pain can get better even if you do not know the cause by working with your doctor to develop a plan to address your particular condition.

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