Epidemiology and Causes of Lower Back Pain

Epidemiology and Causes of Lower Back Pain


The US rates lower back pain as the most common health problem and one of the leading causes of physician visits.

Reports indicate that Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on low back pain. Back pain has been rated as the second most common neurological ailment in the United States, next to headache.

It has also been cited as the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work.

Causative Factors

Poor back-muscle tone, muscle tension or spasms, back sprains, tears in ligaments or muscles and joint problems are some of the most common causes marking onset of the lower back pain.

With age, both the bone strength and muscle elasticity tend to decrease. Consequently, the discs begin to lose fluid and flexibility, which in turn decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae.

In fact, autopsy studies have shown that people who had lower back pain also had characteristic soft tissue injuries.

Here we briefly discuss some of the specific causes of back pain.

Herniated Disk

A herniated (also referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc) disc is a fragment of the disc nucleus which is pushed out of the annulus, into the spinal canal through a tear or a rupture.

The spinal canal has limited space, which is insufficient for the spinal nerve and the displaced herniated disc fragment. As a result, the disc presses on the spinal nerves, producing severe pain.

Collapsed Vertebra

This condition is also referred to as the ‘crushed spine’. This is usually common in patients above the age of 60. This kind of back pain is normally severe and will often erupt with a minimal motion or a fall suffered by the patient.


Also referred to as Spondylolysis, this condition is most prevalent in adolescent athletes. Pain typically emanates out of a stress fracture in one of the bones (vertebrae) that make up the spinal column.


This ailment arises when kidney stones lead to a basic kidney infection. This in turn causes pain, blood and painful urination, accompanied by one-sided lower back pain.


Typically characterized by a blistering rash and burning pain on the chest and the back, Shingles is the most common viral infection causing lower back pain.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

This is a form of arthritis that affects the lower back. Stiffness, soreness and swelling of the joints form the main causes of back pain.


In pregnancy, ligaments around the uterus stretch and put pressure on the lower back, giving rise to pain which is sometimes very severe.

Other Causes

Some of the other causes of mild or severe back pain include nerve or muscle irritation, bone lesions and injury/trauma to the back.

Certain degenerative conditions such as arthritis, osteoporosis, viral infections, irritations to joints and discs, congenital abnormalities in the spine are also known to be the causes of lower back pain.

Lastly, lifestyle deformities such as obesity, stress, poor physical condition, inappropriate posture and poor sleeping positions are the other common causative factors.