Why do I have back pain?

Back pain is a common source of suffering, depression, disability, economic loss and narcotic addiction in America today. Back pain is so common that 90% people will have it during their lifetime and 50% of workers are troubled by back pain each year. These results in one out of six doctor visits are for new back pain.

Back pain may arise from the spine (bony vertebrae, disks, facet joints, muscles or ligaments) or outside of the spine (lungs, heart, abdominal organs, etc). Often the exact cause of the pain is difficult to determine without extensive tests. This has led physicians to classify back pain as primary (non-specific or mechanical) or secondary. Non-specific back pain makes up 98% of back pain and is not life threatening. Secondary back pain may be caused by cancer (primary or metastatic) or infection (vertebral osteomyelitis or spinal epidural abscess).

Most back pain is self-limiting and resolves over weeks to months, but doctors become concerned if the back pain occurs in the setting of cancer, unexplained weight loss, fever, immunosuppression (decreased immune system function such as HIV or AIDS), prolonged use of steroid medications, IV drug use, pain that is unrelieved with rest, significant body injury (fall or motor vehicle accident), weakness, or bowel and bladder incontinence or retention.