What is back pain?

Back pain is any type of pain or discomfort throughout the posterior (back) portion of your trunk, from the pelvis up through the neck. (However, most people who have pain around their neck would describe it as neck pain, not back pain.) Back pain is a very common problem in the United States, second only to headache, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

Your back pain may last briefly or it may be chronic, which is defined as lasting more than three months. Back pain may be described as a dull, annoying ache or a sharp, acute pain. Some pain can be so extreme as to cause you to lie in bed unable to move. Acute back pain often resolves with basic self-care measures within a few weeks, but it can persist and lead to more serious problems over time.

The back consists of the spine (spinal column), spinal cord, nerves, discs, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Any of the structures in the back can become irritated or inflamed in response to a variety of mild to serious conditions. Back pain has many different causes, such as a sports injury, poor posture, arthritis, muscle strain, or trauma suffered in a car accident. The origin and cause of chronic back pain is harder to diagnose and treat.

Back pain may be localized to a specific area, such as lower back pain, or it may cover a more generalized section of the back. In addition, localized pain anywhere in the back can radiate, or spread, to other areas of your body. The converse is also true; pain somewhere else in your body can radiate to your back.

Back pain accompanied by other symptoms, such as loss of bladder or bowel control and numbness in your extremities (arms or legs), is a serious condition and should be evaluated as soon as possible or in an emergency medical setting. In addition, if your pain is extreme, persistent, or causes you concern, contact a medical professional.

SYMPTOMS

What other symptoms might occur with back pain?

Back pain may occur with other symptoms depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For instance, if your back pain is due to arthritis, you may experience pain in other parts of your body. Back pain due to a pinched nerve can even lead to loss of bladder control. Back pain is often a major symptom of fibromyalgia, which is also characterized by Read more about back painsymptoms

CAUSES

What causes back pain?

Understanding the parts that make up your back and how it works can help you understand why you have back pain. Your back is made up of  bony structures called vertebrae that surround and protect the spinal cord. Within the spinal cord run nerve roots from the brain that send and receive messages to and from the rest of the body. Between the vertebrae are spongy sacs of cartilage, called d... Read more about back paincauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 23, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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Back pain is one of the most common medical problems. In fact, eight out of 10 people will experience back pain at some point in their lives.