How Common Is Back Pain?
2nd June 2017
How Common Is Back Pain?
It is estimated that one in five people will visit their GP in any given year because of back pain (1); the London Spine Unit is a centre for excellence in the diagnosis, intervention and aftercare of all spinal conditions.
Chronic back pain is less common than acute back pain, but it is still very widespread. In England, chronic back pain is the second most common cause of long-term disability (after arthritis. After stress, it is the leading cause of long-term work-related absence. A recent study found that one in every ten people reported having some degree of chronic back pain. (2)
Causes of Back Pain
Most cases are known as ‘non-specific’ because they are not caused by serious damage or disease, but by sprains, muscle strains, minor injuries, or a pinched or irritated nerve.
Back pain can also be triggered by everyday activities at home or work, and by poor posture. For example, back pain may be triggered by:
- bending awkwardly
- lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling incorrectly
- slouching in chairs
- standing or bending down for long periods
- muscle tension
- driving for long periods without taking a break
Sometimes, you may wake up with back pain and have no idea what has caused it.
Some common causes include:
- gynaecological problems in women, such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)
- different types of arthritis, such as osteoarthritis
- stress-related tension
- viral infections
- bone disorders
- bladder and kidney infections
- osteoporosis (weak and brittle bones)
- a trip or fall
- a trauma or injury, such as a fracture
- lack of exercise
- sleep disorders
The London Spine Unit is a world-class facility housing the finest technology, nurses and consultants, setting the highest standards for investigation and treatment of all spinal disorders. The Unit is based in a custom built facility on the third floor of the Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth, equipped with the finest modern technology and equipment.
Serious Back Pain
The bulging or rupture of one or more of the intervertebral discs can sometimes cause serious back pain. This results in the inner jelly-like material (nucleus pulposus) pressing on the spinal cord or nerve roots, which run next to the disc. This is commonly known as a ‘slipped disc’, but is more accurately described as a ‘prolapsed’ (bulging) or ‘herniated’ (ruptured) disc.
The pain will usually be in your lower back, but you may also experience pain in you buttocks, thigh, calves, feet and toes, due to irritation of the sciatic nerve, which runs down both legs. Occasionally, the pain is also accompanied by pins and needles, numbness and weakness.
Intervertebral discs tend to dry out and weaken with age, or following an injury. This results in the discs becoming less flexible, which means they do not cushion the vertebrae as well as they did before. This is a common cause of stiffness and pain, particularly in the elderly. It also tends to be worse early in the morning.