What Causes Back Pain? 

Back pain seems to be a fact of life. Lower back pain affects as many as 80 percent of adults sometime during their lives. Even though back pain is common among adults, if your pain is severe or becomes more frequent, you should talk to your doctor.

Anything from injury to improper lifting to aging may cause back pain. Some of the common causes of back pain include:

  • Stretched or strained muscles
  • Injuries that damage the muscles, bones or tissue in the back
  • Herniated (slipped) discs
  • Osteoporosis
  • Obesity and overweight
  • Poor posture
  • Pregnancy

How is back pain diagnosed?

Your doctor may use a number of diagnostic tests to determine the cause of your back pain. You may need an X-ray that shows problems like arthritis or bone diseases. X-rays, however, won’t reveal problems with soft tissue such as the discs or nerves. Your doctor may use a computerized tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test. Other diagnostic tests may include a myelogram, which is an X-ray of the spine using a special dye.

What treatments are available?

Luckily, most back problems can be treated without surgery. Your doctor may suggest limiting your activity and prescribe some pain medications or anti-inflammatory medicines. You may start seeing a physical therapist for exercises designed to strengthen the back or for other treatments.

What about surgery?

If a severely pinched nerve, a compressed spinal cord or an instability in the spine causes your back problem, then your doctor may suggest surgery. “Surgery may be indicated if you have symptoms of nerve damage including pain radiating down the legs or arms; pain, numbness, weakness or tingling in the arms or legs,” stated Ralph Maxy, MD, a spine surgeon at Frye.

Back surgery is used for these conditions:

  • Herniated disk
  • Disk degeneration
  • Spinal stenosis (narrowing)
  • Fractures
  • Infections or tumors
  • Spinal deformity


“Back surgery techniques are improving. Today, your doctor may be able to use less invasive surgery techniques to treat your condition. It’s important for you to talk with your doctor about your options and which procedures are recommended and why,” added Dr. Maxy.


Take Control

You can take these steps to prevent recurrent back problems:

  • Exercise regularly to keep the muscles in your back strong and flexible.
  • Stretch before exercising to help warm up your muscles.
  • Avoid standing or being in one position for too long.
  • Maintain your proper body weight since excess weight strains your back muscles.
  • Use proper lifting and moving techniques.
  • Get help if an object is heavy or an awkward size.
  • Don’t twist when lifting.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Remember what your mother said, “Don’t slouch. Sit up straight.”

For more information, or a referral to a physician, please call the Frye physician referral line at 1-828-315-3391.