Back Pain 101

The back is a complicated collection of bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves and discs, spreading across your entire upper body. The complexity of this body part makes injuries and illness of the back difficult to navigate. Regardless if your discomfort is caused by injury, illness or another medical condition, back pain can be debilitating and extremely difficult to live with.

In a previous blog, we outlined some easy lifestyle changes to help alleviate acute and chronic back pain. Now we’re taking a look at how that back pain may have occurred in the first place.

Common Causes of Back Pain

Trauma and Injury

It should come as no surprise that a traumatic event or injury could trigger lower back pain. There are an array of possible injuries that could occur based on the type of traumatic event:

  • Sprains/strains

    (from activities like exercise, lifting objects at work or overexertion during an accident) are possible when the muscles in the back become overstretched or a ligament is torn. Improper body mechanics and poor technique are often the culprit. These events can also lead to back spasms and inflammation, which cause pain and decreased mobility.

  • Herniated Discs

    are a common cause of severe back pain. The discs exist as cushions between each vertebrae of the spine. Herniated or ruptured discs occur when the soft center of the disc pushes through a tear in the disc’s tough exterior. This can result in pain, numbness and weakness not only in the back, but also in the arms and legs. Common causes of herniated discs include decreased flexibility, heavy lifting and working a physically demanding job; age and weight can also play a factor.

  • Fractures and Dislocations

    tend to occur during more severe traumatic events, such as car accidents, sports injuries, violent acts and critical falls. Spinal fractures take place when too much pressure is placed on the spine, requiring the break as a release; it is also possible for fragments of the bone to break off depending on the intensity. Dislocations on the other hand, occur when the ligaments or discs are stretched or torn, causing vertebrae to become unaligned. Along with pain, these injuries could also disturb the spinal cord, possibly affecting your ability to walk and move limbs.


Serious events are not the only cause for back pain. Simple choices and body mechanics in our everyday lives contribute to casual and chronic backaches. Much of back pain is caused by moving and resting in ways that we shouldn’t be.

  • Poor posture while sitting in a chair, either slouching or hunching, puts your spine in an unnatural curved position, straining the back muscles. Unsafe lifting mechanics can also put strain on your lower back which can lead to strains and sprains.
  • Unevenly distributing weight between your legs while standing (think popping up one hip) puts extra pressure on your hip and lower back; this can also lead to an imbalance in your hips and pelvic area over time.
  • Exercise can be a great thing for your body, but it can also be a downfall. Back problems can occur in both people who exercise regularly, and those who do not exercise enough. Lack of exercise promotes weak muscles and an unstable core (a strong core provides support for your back). On the other hand, those who spend a lot of time in the gym are often at risk of back injury. With many weight lifting programs, as your body gets used to lifting a particular weight, you begin adding more to promote muscle growth; but knowing your limitations is important! If you increase your weight too much too fast, you are putting yourself at risk for injury. Moreover, if you are injured, continuing to lift to “fight through the pain” can do more damage than the initial strain.
  • Lastly, in general being overweight adds stress to all major joints and muscles in the body, including your back.

Medical Conditions

Of course, underlining medical conditions should also be considered when investigating the source of back pain. Osteoarthritis, Scoliosis, Osteoporosis and even Pregnancy are all medical reasons for persistent back pain. Many of these conditions are caused by aging, which we all know there is no cure for (wouldn’t that be nice!). Our bodies begin to breakdown over time, making our muscles weaker, joints stiffer and bones more brittle. For some of these ailments, medication, bracing and symptom management may be the options for relief. Your primary care physician or orthopedic surgeon should be able to give you information regarding your condition and provide you with all possible treatment (if any) options that are available.

Looking for Help?

Check out our blog, Back Pain Solutions for tips and lifestyle changes to alleviate your back pain without surgery or pain medication. To make an appointment with one of our physical therapists, contact our Warren location or our Dearborn location.

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