The list below covers the most common back and neck conditions and areas of spine-related pain. Each topic contains doctor written and reviewed articles, in-depth videos and other beneficial information to help you understand each condition. If you are not sure what condition you are looking for, you can start your search by the location of the pain (neck pain, upper back pain, low back pain, leg pain).
Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
Spinal arthritis - also called degenerative joint disease - is the breakdown of the cartilage between the facet joints in the spine, leading
to low back pain and/or leg pain.
The term arthritis describes many different diseases that cause tenderness, pain, swelling and stiffness of the joints. With osteoarthritis, the most common form of arthritis, the cartilage around the joint wears out and causes the bones in the joint to rub against each other, creating inflammation and pain. Most forms of arthritis can occur in any joint in the body, including the joints in the spinal column. Osteoarthritis of the spine can lead to lost flexibility, bone spurs (osteophytes), irritated nerves, back pain or spinal stenosis, and sciatica symptoms. Sometimes the terms spondylosis or degenerative joint disease are used interchangeablely with osteoarthritis.
Back pain that lasts longer than 3 months is considered unlikely to heal on its own and different treatment paths are considered in order to get pain relief.
Chronic pain is a wide-sweeping term, often describing pain that lasts more than three to six months or pain beyond the point of tissue healing. Some forms of chronic pain can be linked to an identifiable cause, like degenerative disc disease, spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis, which can cause ongoing pain until successfully treated. Other forms of pain have no known or understood cause, such as fibromyalgia or neuropathic pain (nerve pain). Fighting chronic pain is a lifelong struggle for many.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Most patients with degenerative disc disease will experience low-level but continuous back pain that will occasionally intensify and can become severe.
Degenerative disc disease is a condition that is commonly misunderstood. A degenerated disc is not actually a disease -- it is part of the normal aging of the spine. When a spinal disc degenerates, it loses its ability to function efficiently as part of the spinal joint, which in turn can lead to back pain and possibly pain that radiates through the extremities.
Clinical depression often accompanies chronic back pain, or can lead to increased back pain, and needs to be included as part of an overall treatment plan.
Depression is by far the most common emotion associated with chronic back pain. The type of depression that often accompanies chronic pain is referred to as major depression or clinical depression and is a serious medical condition. Although most people understand how chronic pain can cause depression, the reverse can be true as well. People with depression are much more likely to develop chronic back pain or neck pain than people who are not clinically depressed. A comprehensive approach is often required to assist patients in managing depression, chronic pain and depression-related sleep issues.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic muscular pain syndrome, which may first appear as back pain.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic myofascial (muscular) pain syndrome that typically causes generalized back pain and muscle pain and causes specific areas of the body to become tender to the touch. Though it is similar to arthritis, it does not cause the same inflammation. Fibromyalgia sufferers are often victims of severe fatigue, sleep problems and insomnia, stiff joints, headaches and depression.
A herniated disc occurs when the inner gel in the disc leaks out and puts pressure upon a spinal nerve, often leading to leg pain or arm pain.
As a disc degenerates, the soft inner gel in the disc can leak back into the spinal canal. This is known as disc herniation, or herniated disc. Once inside the spinal canal, the herniated disc material then puts pressure on the nerve, causing pain to radiate down the nerve leading to sciatica or leg pain (from alumbar herniated disc) or arm pain (from a cervical herniated disc).
When the nerves exiting the spine in the lower back are impinged, the pain may extend down the leg as a general pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness.
Leg pain is not always caused by an actual problem in the leg or a related condition in the ankle or foot. Many types of leg pain stem from lower back conditions like a herniated disc, spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesisthat irritate the nearby nerve root, with symptoms carried from the sciatic nerve down the back of the leg and even into the foot in some instances.
The term "sciatica" is used to describe symptoms of leg pain and possible numbness, tingling and weakness that is referred from the lower back along the sciatic nerve. With sciatica, the patient may feel no back pain but have severe leg pain.
Lower Back Pain
There are many conditions that affect the lower back - this section of Spine-health features general information about lower back pain and less common specific conditions.
Over 80% of the population will suffer from some form of lower back pain at some point in their lives. Most cases of lower back pain can be linked to a general cause - such as muscle strain, injury or overuse – or can be attributed to a specific diagnosed condition of the spine. The most common spine related conditions that cause lower back pain are:
Degenerative Disc Disease
While less common than the conditions listed above, a number of other conditions can cause low back pain as well, such assacroiliac joint dysfunction, spinal tumors, fibromyalgia, andpiriformis syndrome. Learn more in our overview Lower Back Pain Symptoms and Causes.
The neck can be afflicted with spinal stenosis, herniated disc, osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease, and also by muscle strain, whiplash or other conditions.
Most episodes of neck pain are due to a muscle strain or other soft tissue sprain (ligaments, tendons). This type of injury can also be caused by a sudden force (whiplash). These types of neck pain often improve with time and with non-surgical care such as medications and chiropractic manipulation. But if the neck pain continues or worsens or is accompanied by arm pain or numbness, there is often a specific condition that requires treatment. Cervical degenerative disc disease, cervical herniated disc, cervical stenosis, and cervical arthritis can all lead to neck pain. Each of these conditions has unique symptoms and treatment approaches.
Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures
Most fractures in the spine are caused by osteoporosis, which is a condition in which bones lose structural integrity.
Osteoporosis is a condition that causes a thinning of the bones. This can result in vertebral compression fractures, deformity (kyphosis) and even death.Osteoporosis and related spine fractures are largely treatable and preventable with medications, calcium intake, and kyphoplasty or vertebroplasty surgery.
Pregnancy and Back Pain
The bodily changes during pregnancy make back pain a common development. Certain treatments are recommended for most pregnant women to prevent back pain.
Pregnancy creates a great deal of strain on a woman's body. It increases pressure on the spine, the feet, and the legs. This can all result in sometimes severe lower back pain during pregnancy. However, there are many methods for back and chronic pain relief during pregnancy. The following articles can help you manage back pain and pregnancy with exercise and other treatments.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
The joint between the base of the spine and the hip does not normally have much movement, but any change in the joint may cause lower back pain and/or leg pain.
Although this condition has been hard to diagnose over the years, sacroiliac joint dysfunction has been commonly thought of as a source of lower back pain and/or leg pain. Connecting the triangular bone at the bottom of the spine (the sacrum) with the pelvis, the sacroiliac joint may be a source of pain if its normal motion is disturbed. More specifically, sacroiliac joint pain may be caused by too much or too little movement. Examine the following resources to learn more about sacroiliac joint dysfunction, including how it’s diagnosed and treated.
The sciatic nerve exits the lumbar spine and carries information between the brain and the legs. When a lower back problem affects the sciatic nerve, pain can radiate down the leg and into the foot.
Sciatica is a term used to describe the symptoms of leg pain and possibly tingling, numbness or weakness that travels down the low back down via the sciatic nerve in the back of the leg. Sciatica (sometimes known as radiculopathy) is a description of symptoms, not a diagnosis. A herniated disc, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, and spondylolisthesis can all cause sciatica, but it's up to a patient and his or her doctor to determine the proper course of action.
An abnormal side-to-side curvature of the spine, known as scoliosis, develops mostly in adolescents, but can also be a byproduct of aging and arthritis.
Scoliosis describes an abnormal, side-to-side, curvature of the spine. The spinal curve may develop as a single curve (shaped like the letter C) or as two curves (shaped like the letter S). In children and teenagers, scoliosis often does not have any noticeable symptoms and may not be noticeable until the curve has progressed significantly. The two most common forms of scoliosis are degenerative scoliosis and idiopathic scoliosis (adolescent). Three orthopedically approved options exist for combating this condition: observation, bracing, or surgery. Which option is the most appropriate requires a proper diagnosis and a strange base of knowledge by both doctor and patient.
Besides scoliosis, there are other conditions which may cause a change in the normal structure of the spine.
Spine Deformity can happen when unnatural curvature occurs, as in scoliosis (side-to-side curvature) or kyphosis and Scheuermann's disease (front-to-back curvature). It also occurs due to defect (as in spondylolisthesis) or damage to the spine (if there are multiple fractures or ankylosing spondylitis). Deformities do not commonly cause pain unless the change in structure restricts movement or a severe deformity reduces room in the spinal canal and puts pressure on the nerves there.
Spinal stenosis is a condition in which parts of the spine narrows and can lead to compression of a spinal nerve or the spinal cord in the neck.
Generally developing slowly in the later years of a person's life (usually past fifty), spinal stenosisoccurs when the spinal cord in the neck (cervical spine) or the spinal nerve roots in the lower back (lumbar spine) are compressed. Symptoms of lumbar stenosis often include leg pain (sciatica) with walking, as well as tingling, weakness or numbness in the legs. Arm pain is the typical symptom of cervical spinal stenosis. For cervical spinal stenosis with myelopathy, difficulty with coordination often occurs.
Often dependent on the type of spinal stenosis and the severity of the patient's symptoms, stenosis treatment may include non-surgical options like exercise, anti-inflammatory medication, epidural injections and activity modification, or different types of back surgeries. Learn more about spinal stenosis in the following resources.
A tumor in the spine can cause pressure on the nerves in the spine similar to many other spinal conditions.
Cancer can affect the spine and its components by a number of types of spinal tumors. Most tumors in the spine are metastatic - they spread from another part of the body into the spinal region and cause pain.
Spinal anatomy is a complex construct of nerves, bones, ligaments, tendons, muscle and joints. Learning about spinal anatomy helps to understand specific back pain conditions or symptoms.
The spinal column is a complex, intricate construct that includes a variety of nerves, bones, joints, tendons, ligaments and muscles all woven together. The spine is designed to be remarkably strong, with a great deal of flexibility in the lower back and neck. The in-depth information of spinal column anatomy presented in the following articles and videos provides a useful foundation for understanding different spine problems and treatment options.
Spondylolisthesis occurs when one vertebra in the spine slips forward over the one below it, causing lower back pain and/or leg pain. It most commonly occurs in the lower levels of the spine.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which one vertebra slip forward over the one below it. Spondylolisthesis is a fairly common cause of lower back pain and leg pain in younger adults (e.g. age 30 to 50), and degenerative spondylolisthesis is a fairly common cause of pain in older adults (e.g. age 50 and up). The most common symptoms are lower back pain and/or leg pain that limits a person's activity level.
Sports and Spine Injuries
Certain sports and activities are likely to cause or worsen back pain due to repetitive motions and added strain on the spine.
Activities such as sports put a tremendous amount of stress on the body. Any sort of previous weakness in the spine can be aggravated by rigorous activity. The proper form and technique will help to prevent sports injuries or keep from causing back pain during and after physical exertion.
Upper Back Pain
Pain from the thoracic spine is less common than from the cervical spine (neck) or lumbar spine (lower back). Muscular issues and joint dysfunctions are the most common problems in upper back.
Because the upper back/thoracic spine area of the spinal column has a great deal of stability and only limited movement, it is far less common than its lower back pain and neck pain counterparts. However, when upper back pain does occur, it can cause significant discomfort. Muscular irritation (myofascial pain) and joint dysfunction are often the culprits of upper back pain. Because of its nature, the upper back responds best to manual treatments such as exercise, chiropractic manipulation, massage therapy, or accupuncture.