5 Main Causes of Back Pain

Back pain can be hard to diagnose as imaging (and other diagnostic tests) are often unable to pinpoint any specific injury. So, how do you know what may be causing your low back pain and, if you don’t know what it is, how can you treat it and get better?

Back pain can be a debilitating condition and is known to affect around 80% of the population at some point in their lives. Back pain is also one of the leading causes of disability and lost workdays. To try to help you determine how to get to the root of your back pain we have listed the 5 most common causes of back pain below.

1. Muscle or Ligament Strain

This is the single most common cause of back pain. A strain can happen slowly over time, due to repetitive movements, or with one single sudden movement. Whether it is a sprain or a strain doesn’t really matter as both will be treated the same way.

Some common causes of muscle strain include sports injuries, lifting heavy objects, twisting in the wrong way, poor posture (that affects the spine over time), or falls. Standing or sitting for long periods of time, long driving sessions, or sleeping on a mattress that does not fully support your body are other every day common culprits in causing muscle strains and sprains.

2. Bulging or ruptured discs/ Sciatica

Between the spinal vertebrae lie special discs that act as cushions between the bones. These cushions are filled with special fluid that helps prevent the bones from pressing on each other.

Over time the fluid in the discs can leak out causing tears in the disc wall and leading to feelings of pain. Bulging of the discs can occur when the material in the discs is put under pressure from an adjacent vertebrae. This can put pressure on nerves, leading to significant pain.

Sciatica is a common condition that is caused by bulging or herniated discs that press on the nerves and can cause sharp, shooting pains that travel through the buttock and down the back of the leg.

3. Arthritis

Arthritis occurs when there is pain, inflammation, and stiffness in the joints. Arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition which is known as spinal stenosis.

Arthritis in the spine is often caused by inflammatory conditions such as infections and autoimmune disorders as well as general wear and tear. Stiffness tends to be worse in the morning and improves throughout the day with movement and activities.

4. Skeletal irregularities

There are a few different skeletal irregularities but scoliosis is one of the most common. Scoliosis is a sideways curvature of the spine that can occur during the growth spurt just before puberty.

Often the cause of scoliosis is unknown, but it can be caused by conditions such as cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy. Most cases of scoliosis are mild, but some can be painful and disabling.

5. Osteoporosis

Over time, wear and tear of the disc and facet joints can cause osteoarthritis of the low back. Aging is the primary cause of this and spinal osteoarthritis (also known as spondylosis, or, degenerative joint disease) is often progressive, getting worse over time.


These are a few of the most common causes of back pain but there are some more serious medical conditions that can cause back pain. Typically, most back pain cases will gradually improve by themselves over the course of a few weeks, with a little bit of home care.

If your back pain lasts more than a few weeks, then you should make an appointment with your healthcare provider to discuss your situation in more detail. It could be a sign of something more serious.

Also, you should seek immediate care if your back pain causes new bowl or bladder problems, follows a fall or other injury directly to your back, or if your back pain is accompanied by fever. These may indicate a serious medical issue (see our blog on 'When Should I Worry About Low Back Pain').

Depending on your specific symptoms or underlying conditions, there are a wide variety of options to help reduce pain and improve your mobility so that you can get back to doing all of the things you want to do. Don’t let back pain slow you down.

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