The term “backache” is a very broad term — it can describe many different forms of back pain — and the causes behind back pain can vary greatly, too. Part of the reason for this wide range of backaches is the many different conditions and experiences that can cause a backache in the first place. This also means that backaches can have a wide range of treatments.
If you’re experiencing chronic or severe back pain, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor about it as soon as you can. Learning about some of the common causes of backaches can also help you pinpoint potential reasons for your pain and help you learn how to avoid it in the future.
Injuries are one of the most common causes of backaches. Playing a contact sport, recovering from a fall or simply twisting your body in an uncomfortable way may all contribute to back pain. Often, the injuries that cause backaches are tears in the muscles and other tissues supporting your spine. Sprains and strains like these usually happen if you twist your body or lift something the wrong way. In most cases, they heal quickly with rest and restricted movements.
Like a sprain, a fracture may also occur in the vertebrae in your back due to an injury from playing sports or falling. Fractures are much more serious, however, and can often result in chronic back pain that grows in severity if you don’t get treatment. If you have osteoporosis, the condition can weaken your bones and cause fractures, too.
Osteoarthritis develops when the cartilage protecting the ends of your bones, particularly your vertebrae, wears down and leads to pain and joint damage. As your vertebral discs become compressed, you may experience back stiffness and back pain. This happens more commonly in older adults, particularly those who were very active in their younger years. This is similar to another condition called intervertebral disc degeneration or degenerative disc disease, which occurs when discs in your back start to break down due to the aging process.
When a disc in your spine ruptures — meaning it moves into a position it shouldn’t be in — it’s often called a herniated disc or slipped disc. If the herniated disc pinches a nerve in your spinal cord, you’ll likely feel pain almost immediately. Your doctor may need to do an X-ray to diagnose this condition, but exercise and pain medication can usually relieve it.
Some backaches result from personal habits rather than medical conditions. One example of this is the position you choose to sleep in. Sleeping on your stomach arches your back in an uncomfortable way, so doctors recommend either sleeping on your back with a pillow under your knees or sleeping on your side with a pillow between your legs. The added cushioning in these positions helps to keep your back straight and aligned throughout the night.
If you have obesity, you may experience increased stress on your joints, which makes you more likely to experience back pain or backaches. Maintaining a lower weight may help reduce your backaches.
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes pain in the muscles, ligaments and tendons all over your body. This means that backaches may only be one source of pain you’re living with if you have this condition. Another key sign of fibromyalgia is fatigue. There are several medications available for treating the symptoms of this condition.
One of the most common symptoms of pregnancy is back pain, especially in the lower back. Most of this is due to the way weight is distributed during pregnancy (having most of the extra weight in the lower abdomen makes it harder to keep the back straight and aligned). As a parent gets closer to their due date, some of that back pain may also result from the baby placing pressure on the lower back as it grows within the uterus.
If you don’t maintain good posture, your muscles and ligaments have to work harder to keep your body balanced. This can lead to backaches, headaches and fatigue. To alleviate these symptoms, try reminding yourself to stand up straight with your shoulders back.
Stress and Anxiety
Most of the common causes of backaches come from physical conditions or movements, but in the case of stress the cause is more emotional and psychological. When you’re feeling extremely stressed or filled with anxiety, your body may respond by causing tension in your back. Similarly, depression may also lead to feelings of back pain and stiffness. Seeing a therapist or counselor may help ease back pain associated with stress, anxiety or depression.
“Back pain | Causes, exercises, treatments,” Versus Arthritis
“Low Back Pain Fact Sheet,” National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
“Osteoarthritis (OA) | Arthritis,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention