Back pain is one of the most common complaints that doctors in the United States hear. In fact, it is one of the top reasons people site for missing days of work or other important functions.
The first step in helping back pain is discovering what is causing that pain. To that end there are generally believed to be two schools of thought – organic and non-organic. Organic pain is known as ‘true’ pain or pain that is due to some sort of physical damage or pathology to an affected part of the body, in this case the back. However, within the area of organic origins is mechanical pain.
This is the general term that is used to refer to any kind of back pain that is caused by abnormal stress and strain being placed on the muscles surrounding the vertebrae. This kind of pain is organic because it is caused by physical symptoms yet mechanical results from bad habits like incorrect bending and lifting, poor posture, sleeping on poor mattresses, etc.
The difference between mechanical pain and organic pain lies in how they are corrected.
The bad habits that lead to mechanical back pain can be changed. You can buy a new mattress or chair that has better support for your back. You can make a conscious effort to sit up straighter and to bend and lift properly. These are things that can be changed by a little extra effort.
Other organic causes of back pain however cannot be changed by simply changing how you do something. These are causes such as genetic deformity, injury, age related deterioration, and/or disease of the spine and surrounding tissues.
Since most back pain is mechanical in nature, the source of the pain could be triggered by movements of the spine. There are several parts of the spinal column that move including intervertebral discs, tendons, facet joints, ligaments, muscles, and vertebral bodies.
There are always different mechanical forces like compression, stress, gravity, and tension increasing and decreasing at all times upon one’s spine. Thus, the spine is always working to balance these effects and help prevent injury and pain.
#1. Neck and/or back sprain/strain
A sprain happens when the ligaments of the spine are torn or even simply overstretched. Ligaments are the bands of strong tissues that hold bones together. In contrast, a strain refers to a tendon or muscle attachment.
It can be difficult to pinpoint whether your pain is caused by a strain or a sprain. Regardless, the soft tissues are injured and swell up causing pain. The affected muscles may even spasm which inflicts more pain.
#2. Disc Herniation
When the gel-like center material of a disc breaks through the outer ring, it is called disc herniation. This can often cause nerve compression, inflammation, irritation, and pain. This pain can travel into the extremities. Additional symptoms of disc herniation are tingling, numbness, and weakness in the extremities. Depending on where in the spine the herniation occurs, these symptoms can happen in the legs or the arms.
#3. Vertebral Compression Fracture (VCF)
This happens when a vertebral body is forced to collapse by force. This can be caused by a trauma like a fall or by the progression of osteoporosis. In the latter, VCFs can happen with as little force at that needed to bend forward. Regardless of the cause, these fractures can cause the sudden onset of severe pain.
#4. Spinal Stenosis (LSS)
The word stenosis is defined as “narrow; narrowing.” Thus, spinal stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal and/or the nerve root passageways. The primary symptom of this condition is radiating pain. It can be caused by a sudden trauma or by age associated degenerative changes that can trigger growth into the pathways to compress the spinal canal.
#5. Spinal Osteoarthritis (Spondylosis) Degenerative spinal osteoarthritis is common in older adults. The medical term for this condition is spondylosis. Much like other kinds of arthritis, spondylosis can affect the facet joints of the spine resulting in stiffness, pain, and inflammation. This is part of the degenerative changes that can lead to disc herniation and spinal stenosis