Just about everyone has had severe back pain, or knows someone who has. It is relatively common—experts estimate that low back pain affects about 10 percent of people around the world. And if you have it, it can hamper your social, financial, or psychological life.
Your spine helps you move, twist, and stretch because of the way it is constructed. It is made of bones called vertebrae that wrap around and protect your spinal cord. Between the vertebrae are discs, or spongy cushions. These are tough exterior shells filled with liquid that act as shock absorbers. Your discs protect your vertebrae when you walk, jump, or otherwise move around.
The conditions we see most often are:
- Arthritis of the spine. Arthritis of the spine, or spinal arthritis, is a condition where the small joints between each vertebra in the spine shrink or wear thin, causing bone spurs or enlargement of the joint. This, in turn, leads to the pain and inflammation of arthritis.
- Lumbar radiculopathy (sciatica). This condition causes pain that travels along the path of the sciatic nerve, which goes from the lower back through the hips and down each leg. You might feel anything from a mild ache to a sharp burning sensation in your lower back and leg. You might also have numbness, tingling, or muscle weakness. We can often treat sciatica pain in a few weeks, though it sometimes lasts longer.
- Sacroiliac joint pain. If you have a dull pain in your lower back, it could be sacroiliac joint pain. This joint connects the spine to the pelvis; you have one on either side of the spine. It helps with forward and backward bending and absorbs pressure. Pain in this joint starts there and may radiate out to your buttocks, thighs, groin, or upper back. You may have sacroiliac joint pain due to injury, arthritis, or even pregnancy.
- Spinal stenosis. This condition happens when your spinal canal narrows, pinching the nerve roots and spinal cord. It usually affects the lower back and neck and can cause pain or weakness in the legs and thighs. You can even experience difficulty walking and keeping your balance. Some people are born with spinal stenosis, but most often it develops over time, due to normal wear and tear.