Not all injuries are created equal. Here, some of the most prevalent conditions and symptoms.
- Muscle Injuries: Overstretched or injured muscles, tendons, or ligaments can result in strains, sprains, or spasms. Poor posture, prolonged sitting, strenuous work, and repetitive action such as throwing a ball or weeding a garden can stress so-called “soft tissues” in your back. In our survey, this was the most common cause of back pain, affecting over one-third of respondents.
- Degenerative Changes: As you age, the gel-like disks cushioning the bones of your spine and the cartilage lining the joints can begin to wear. That allows the bones to rub against one another, causing osteoarthritis. Some degeneration of this kind is harmless and unavoidable. Imaging studies show that almost everyone older than 60 has signs of spinal wear and tear. But most never report significant pain.
- Herniated, or Slipped, Disks: Lifting, pulling, bending, or twisting puts pressure on the disks. That pressure can cause them to bulge or slip. When a bulging disk in the lower spine irritates the sciatic nerve, the sharp pain, called sciatica, is often excruciating and can radiate down a leg even when there’s no back pain. Slouching at the waist can worsen symptoms.
- Spinal Stenosis: The spine responds to degenerative changes by growing new bone in the joints and thickening the ligaments to provide better support. But over time those bone spurs and thickened ligaments narrow the space around the spinal cord and can irritate nerves. Symptoms include numbness, weakness, or cramping in the back, buttocks, arms, or legs. Walking usually worsens symptoms; rest or sitting leaning forward tends to offer relief.
- Spinal Instability: When disks and joints wear, they don’t do as good a job supporting the spine. As a result, vertebrae move more than they should. In some cases a bone slides forward, causing a condition called spondylolisthesis. Symptoms often come and go suddenly, sometimes shifting from one side of the body to the other, and can include a feeling of weakness in the legs with prolonged standing or walking.