What Causes Spine Pain?

No spine painThe spine is a highly complex mechanism of bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, and nerves that work together in a beautifully integrated way. It bears the weight of our body and supports our arm and leg movement. It protects the spinal cord and nerves that connect our brain to every other part of our body, and contributes significantly to balance and coordination. Like links in a chain, each vertebral segment of the spine moves in relation to the segments above and below. Yet, an imbalance in this complex mechanism of spine function results in spine pain.

According to the CDC (source), 80% of us will have back pain during our lifetime, and 20% of the population currently has back pain. In fact, back pain alone is the second most common reason for a visit to the doctor’s office. (Upper respiratory infection is the most common reason.) One’s first episode of back pain is equally likely to occur at any age from early teens to early 40’s, and 80-90% will have a recurrent episode. Like back pain, neck pain is also a significant health problem. Every year, 14% of working adults are limited by neck pain, and up to 85% will have chronic or recurrent symptoms, according to comprehensive research (source). Obviously, spine pain in general is a serious problem. The good news is that new research is providing more effective treatment strategies and prevention opportunities.

What causes spine pain?

The vast majority of spine pain is not caused by fractures, tumors, or other deteriorating disease, but by functional spine problems.  Sprained ligaments, strained muscles, ruptured discs, pinched nerves, and swollen joints are considered functional spine problems.  These injuries cause further changes as the joints become stuck, the supporting muscles weaken, and the nerves become further sensitive to pain.  This cascade of problems is a major contributor to the above detailed high pain episode recurrence rate. An initial injury may occur during falls or car accidents, or the injury may result from something as small as a sneeze.  Often an episode of spine pain begins with something small, as someone bends to pick up a pencil.  Additionally, repeated microscopic traumas, such as repetitive movement, inactivity, or poor posture, will summate over time to cause a mechanical alteration.

– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. MMWR 2001 50:120-125  link
– The Bone and Joint Decade 2000–2010 Task Force on Neck Pain and Its Associated Disorders: Executive Summary. Spine. 2008 33(4S) S5-S7. link

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