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There are many causes of back pain. Most cases of back pain are caused by wear and tear on the parts of the spine over a period of time. Back pain and damage is commonly caused by arthritis and injuries.

Topics below cover two common areas of spine problems.

  • Arthritis
  • Injuries

Arthritic Spine

Arthritis is a term that is defined as inflammation of the joint and used to describe over 100 different conditions that can affect the human body. Arthritis affects millions of Americans each year with symptoms including pain, stiffness, swelling, and loss of motion in affected joints.

There most common form of arthritis that generally affects the spine is osteoarthritis.

Osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, results in the wearing out of the cartilage that protects the bones in the joints. Once cartilage is damaged or destroyed, cartilage cannot repair or replace itself like many other body tissues. Spine cartilage can be compared to the tread of an automobile tire, very durable but susceptible to wear over time. As we age, the tread surface slowly erodes until the underlying bone is exposed. This exposed bone can be painful when the joint moves and bears weight. In some cases, spinal stenosis can occur which is a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord.

Often the cause of arthritis is unknown, but may develop as a result of injury to the joint, excess body weight, or years of wear and tear on the joint cartilage. There is no known cure. The best that doctors can do for patients is to restore motion and reduce pain.

Common symptoms of osteoarthritis of the spine

  • Severe back pain that limits everyday activity
  • Back pain at night causing sleeplessness
  • Chronic swelling of the back with morning stiffness
  • Decreased activity
  • Impaired lifestyle

Spine Injuries

There are many different types of spine injuries; however, there are a few that are more common than others. Common types of spine injuries include strains and sprains, stenosis, bulging or ruptured disks, sciatica and osteoporosis. These conditions can cause back pain, swelling, and stiffness.

Sprains and Strains are a very common cause of back pain. Sprains are due to ligament injuries. Strains occur because of damage to muscles and tendons. This injury is typically caused by improper or heavy lifting, or after a sudden awkward movement.

Symptoms of a strain or sprain can include, pain that worsens with movement, muscle spasm, decreased motion, difficulty walking, bending forward or sideways, or standing straight.

Spinal Stenosis is a condition where the tissues in the spinal canal are compressed due to the narrowing of the spinal canal. The narrowing of the spinal canal often results in a pinching of the nerve root of the spinal cord. The nerves become increasingly irritated as the diameter of the canal becomes narrower.

Symptoms include pain and numbness in the buttocks and legs along with weakness of the muscles.

A Bulging or ruptured disks is one of the most common causes of back and leg pain. Disks act as cushions between the vertebrae in your spine. A ruptured or bulging disk occurs when the soft material inside a disk bulges or ruptures out of place and presses on a nerve.  

Symptoms include pain that radiates to the buttocks, legs, and feet (sciatica), tingling or numbness in the legs or feet, and muscle weakness.

Sciatica occurs when the disks that cushion vertebrae of your lower spine press on the roots of the sciatic nerve.

Symptoms can include weakness, numbness, or a burning or tingling ("pins and needles") sensation down your leg, possibly even in your toes.

Osteoporosis - Compression fractures of your spine's vertebrae can occur if your bones become porous and brittle.

All patient education materials are provided by and have been reviewed by our Advisory Board of leading Orthopedic Surgeons to ensure accuracy. All materials are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice from your orthopedic surgeon. Any medical decisions should be made after consulting a qualified physician. This site includes links to other web sites. takes no responsibility for the content or information contained in the linked sites.

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