Back pain often develops without a specific cause that your doctor can identify with a test or imaging study. Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:

  • Muscle or ligament strain. Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement may strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If you're in poor physical condition, constant strain on your back may cause painful muscle spasms.
  • Bulging or ruptured disks. Disks act as cushions between the individual bones (vertebrae) in your spine. Sometimes, the soft material inside a disk may bulge out of place or rupture and press on a nerve. The presence of a bulging or ruptured disk on an X-ray doesn't automatically equal back pain, though. Disk disease is often found incidentally; many people who don't have back pain turn out to have bulging or ruptured disks when they undergo spine X-rays for some other reason.
  • Arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. In some cases, arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.
  • Skeletal irregularities. Back pain can occur if your spine curves in an abnormal way. Scoliosis, a condition in which your spine curves to the side, also may lead to back pain, but generally only if the scoliosis is quite severe.
  • Osteoporosis. Compression fractures of your spine's vertebrae can occur if your bones become porous and brittle.
Sep. 11, 2012

You Are ... The Campaign for Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a not-for-profit organization. Make a difference today.