Our back is really an amazing feat of engineering. For one thing, our spine is a structure made up of 33 bones called vertebrae that support our entire body.
Nearly every motion we make has a corresponding effect in our spine. Not only that, but our spinal bones are connected to an incredibly complex pathway of nerves, as well muscles, ligaments, discs and joints.
It’s not surprising, then, that figuring out where pain is coming from in this highly intricate piece of anatomy often amounts to a good deal of guesswork. Even with X-rays and MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging, which uses radio waves and magnets to create cross-sectional images), “85 percent of the time, it’s difficult to pinpoint a precise cause for back pain,” says Daniel Mazanec, MD, the associate director of the Center for Spine Health at the Cleveland Clinic and a medical acupuncturist.
Some of the biggest causes of back pain, such as soft tissue injuries (muscular injuries or ligament sprains/strains), can’t be seen in an MRI or X-ray. And the things that can be imaged, such as joints, discs, bones and nerves, don’t always tell the whole story.
For instance, even if the MRI shows an abnormality, it may not be what’s causing the pain. Less common causes of back pain are due to spinal nerve issues, primarily related to disc problems, bony spurs from arthritis or a combination of both; these affect around 5 to 10 percent of people.
While the cause of your back pain may remain a mystery, a qualified physician or physical therapist, for instance, can still devise a successful treatment and prevention plan. Taking into account your symptoms, current health, diet, activity level and medical history, your doctor will tailor a plan just for you.
The even better news: No matter what’s causing your spine to ache, 99 percent of people do not need surgery to eliminate their back pain, says Dr. Mazanec.
Common Causes of Back Pain
Lifestyle plays a huge role in back injuries. Major factors include:
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