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Back Conditions Overview

Back Strains and Sprains

A strain is a muscle or tendon injury; a sprain is a ligament injury.

Back strain is a common cause of back pain, especially lower back pain. Back muscle strain can be caused by overloading of the back muscles (e.g. lifting a heavy object) or overuse of the back muscles (e.g. repetitive bending or lifting or holding the back in one position for too long). Back strain from overuse may occur quickly or may take weeks or months to develop (chronic overuse injuries).

Back sprain may occur from a fall. Back muscles may not react quickly enough during a fall or accident and fail to keep the spine within its normal range of motion, which may result in overstretched or torn ligaments.


Sciatica is pain or numbness along the sciatic nerve that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks and back of the thigh. The pain may be caused by compression, inflammation, or reflex mechanisms (muscle spasms).

The most common cause of Sciatica is a herniated disk of the lumbar region of the spine (lower back). The pain can vary from a dull ache to a burning sensation. It can be slightly annoying or intensely painful. It usually occurs on one side only. The pain often comes on gradually throughout the days and it at its worst at night. The pain intensifies after prolonged sitting or standing. Most cases resolve within 6 weeks.

Herniated Disc (also know as 'Slipped Disc)

A herniated disc is a rupture of the outer casing of the disc. When a disc is ruptured some of the inner substance may protrude and touch spinal nerves, causing pain down the leg (sciatica) as well as back pain. The majority of herniated discs improve without surgery.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis is compression of the spinal cord or spinal nerve roots. This compression may be caused by a bone spur or bulging disc and is related to degeneration of the spine. Spinal stenosis is more common in the elderly. Symptoms are pain, tingling, numbness. Most cases occur in the lower back - the sciatic nerve is compressed which causes pain to radiate down the buttocks and leg. The pain is usually relieved by sitting, and made worse with activity.


Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a vertebra slips over the vertebra below it, most commonly a vertebra in the lower back. The degree of the slippage varies. There may be no symptoms at all or there may be back pain, sometimes accompanied by pain radiating down the buttocks and leg. Surgery is rarely needed.

Isthmic Spondylolisthesis starts with a crack in a vertebra, usually the lowest lumbar vertebra, causing it to disconnect from the facet joints. This results in the vertebra slipping forward over the vertebra below it - resulting in misalignment and narrowing in the spinal canal. The fracture most often occurs in early childhood but the slippage often occurs later. Sometimes the slippage occurs in childhood, is present for years without symptoms, but often accelerates disc degeneration later in life.

Degenerative Spondylolisthesis starts with degeneration of the disks that results in a vertebra slipping over the vertebra below.

Osteoarthritis of the Spine (Spondylosis)

Osteoarthritis of the Spine is a degenerative disease affecting the facet joints (spinal joints) and the intervertebral discs. Osteoarthritis usually doesn't begin until after the age of 45 and is the most common after the of age 60, but may occur at any age.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

Ankylosing Spondylitis belongs to a group of chronic inflammatory diseases of the spine called Spondylitis. Ankylosing Spondylitis is a type of arthritis causing inflammation of the spine. It is most common in teens and young adults although it can also affect children and older people.


Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones gradually become porous, brittle, and fragile. The risk of osteoporosis increases with age. Osteoporosis is most common in women over the age of 50.


Scoliosis is an abnormal lateral (side-to-side) curvature of the spine with rotation of the vertebrae within the curve. Adolescent Scoliosis is the most common form. Scoliosis does not usually cause any pain when it occurs in children. In growing children, orthopedic braces usually prevent the curve from getting worse but do not correct the curve that is already present; therefore, it is important catch scoliosis early. Surgery can be performed if the curve is severe


Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes widespread pain and fatigue. Although any area of the body may be affected, the lower back, neck, shoulders, are common problem areas.


Whiplash is usually the result of a car accident, but can also occur in a fall. It is an injury to the neck caused by sudden backward and forward movements of the neck in which the muscles dont have time to react to keep the neck within a safe range of motion. (Or the force may too great for the muscles to hold the spine within a safe range of motion). This results in overstretching or tearing the ligaments and muscles that support the cervical spine and possible injuries to the discs and facet joints. The main symptoms are neck pain and stiffness.