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Conditions Your Back Pain Could Be Indicating

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If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you’re definitely not alone. Pain in the back is one of the most common medical issues Americans suffer from, and complaints of discomfort can range from a dull but tolerable ache to a sharp, intense pain that can limit your movements and mobility. While some can experience a general pain that spreads out from the lower, mid, or upper back, others may experience a localized pain that they can pinpoint to a specific spot.

Acute vs. Chronic Back Pain

Back pain is typically categorized as acute—when the pain lasts less than a couple of weeks—or chronic—when the pain lasts longer than 12 weeks. For some, back pain develops slowly over a long period of time, which could remain mild or gradually worsen. For others, they may experience bouts of back pain that come and go, often following an injury or some sort of trauma to the back. Sometimes, a person’s back pain occurs suddenly, usually due to a fall, injury, overextension, or possibly the development of age-related spinal complications.

Where It Can Hurt: Sections of the Spine That Can Develop Pain

The spine complex and consists of bones, discs, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, and—most importantly—the spinal cord. If any of these components wears down, experiences damage, or is altered in any way, it could result in mild to severe back pain.

The spine is divided into four sections:

  • Cervical Spine – This section starts at the base of the skull and ends at the base of the neck. Although the cervical spine is a small area, it can experience various types of damage following events like a car crash, fall, sports injury, blunt force trauma, and other dangerous activities.
  • Thoracic Spine – This section starts at the base of the neck and ends at the base of the rib cage. The biggest section of the back, the thoracic spine most often experiences pain following a vertebral compression fracture (VCF).
  • Lumbar Spine – This section starts at the base of the rib cage and ends just above the sacrum/pelvis. As short as this section of the back is, it is the area that experiences the most pain and damage, most often due to injuries, poor health, lack of movement, improper movement, and genetic predisposition.
  • Sacrum and Coccyx – The final section of the spine is the sacrum, which connects the pelvic (hip) bones to the spinal system, and the coccyx, which connects to a number of ligaments, muscles, and tendons. In this area, the most common source of pain is in either of the joints connecting the pelvic bones to the sacrum.

Common Signs and Symptoms of a Spinal Complication or Injury

Whether your pain is acute or chronic, there are a few symptoms that can indicate injury, damage, or problems of some sort to the spine. These symptoms include:

  • Pain that radiates out from an area of the spine
  • Numbness and tingling in the buttocks, legs, feet, or arms
  • Pain that shoots down the leg
  • Discomfort in the back with prolonged sitting or standing
  • Pain that hinders your ability to bend, sit, stand, or walk
  • Pain that intensifies with activities like lifting or bending
  • Pain that intensifies with bodily functions like coughing or sneezing
  • Pain that is accompanied by
    • Loss of urinary or bowel control
    • Weakness or numbness in the legs or saddle region (the area of the legs and groin that would touch the saddle if you were riding a horse)
    • Fever
    • Sudden weight loss


Conditions Your Back Pain Could Be Indicating

Because the spine is such a complex structure, there are several conditions that could cause your back pain. Many of the following conditions lead to similar pains and sensations, making it hard to determine the exact problem. Talk to a spine expert about your pain to receive the correct diagnosis and treatment.

Compression Fractures

A compression fracture happens when a vertebral bone wears down or is damaged following an injury and collapses more than 15% in height. Patients with osteoporosis typically experience compression fractures throughout the spine, but patients without osteoporosis can develop them, as well.

Signs of a compression fracture include:

  • Pain that worsens with standing or walking
  • Relief that comes when lying down
  • Difficulty bending or twisting the body
  • Loss in height
  • A curved spine

Degenerative Disc Disease

Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is a condition in which the vertebral discs between each vertebra wear down or dry out, leading to pain, stiffness, and a decline in spinal mobility. DDD is extremely common and typically comes with age, and it most often affects the lower back or neck. The pain associated with DDD typically comes from nerve interference and inflammation in the joints of the vertebrae.

Symptoms of DDD include:

  • Chronic dull aches in the lower back or neck
  • Pain that radiates down to the hips and legs
  • Pain while sitting
  • Stiffness in the lower back or neck
  • Numbness or tingling in the neck, arms, or hands

Disc Herniation

Disc herniation occurs when the disc between two vertebrae becomes damaged, and the components of the center push out into surrounding nerves or even the spinal canal. If you think of a disc like a jelly donut, imagine that the shell of the donut wears down and cracks, allowing the inner filling to leak out, push against a nerve, and cause pain.

Disc herniation can accompany degenerative disc disease, or it can be a result of an injury to the spine. While some never experience pain following a herniation, others can develop:

  • A mild or moderate ache on one side of the spine
  • Intensified pain when sneezing or coughing
  • Burning pain, numbness, weakness, or tingling sensations
  • Pain that intensifies with prolonged sitting, standing, walking, or bending
  • Decline in mobility or back strength
  • Balancing issues


Spinal osteoarthritis, or arthritis of the spine, occurs when the vertebrae’s joints wear down, discs become thinner, and more pressure is placed on the facet joints. This pressure results in friction between the vertebrae, cartilage damage, a narrowed spinal canal, and nerve compression, which all equal pain for the patient.

Signs of osteoarthritis include:

  • Stiffness in the back
  • Pain in the joints of the back
  • Swelling and tenderness in the area
  • Mobility or flexibility loss


Often a result of a herniated disc or the development of a bone spur, sciatica develops when the sciatic nerve is compressed at its root in the lumbar spine. This compression leads to pain that shoots from the lower back to the back of the leg or even the foot. Sciatica typically affects only one side of the body, but it can affect both.

Signs of sciatica include:

  • Pain that radiates from the lower back to the buttocks or back of the leg(s)
  • Pain in the hip or groin
  • Mobility issues
  • Muscle weakness
  • Leg or foot numbness
  • Feelings of pins and needles in the buttocks or leg(s)

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a condition in which the spinal canal narrows, compressing the surrounding nerves or even the spinal cord. The most common cause of spinal stenosis is osteoarthritis, or age-related wear and tear of the spine.

Signs of stenosis include:

  • Pain in the buttocks or leg(s)
  • Pain that worsens with walking or standing
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling in the leg

Spinal Tumors

Sometimes, a growth can develop on or near your spinal canal and cause pain as it pushes against nerves or your spinal cord. These tumors can be benign or cancerous, depending on the cause of the growth.

Symptoms of a spinal tumor include:

  • Back pain that radiates out from the growth site
  • Difficulty walking
  • Increased risk of falling
  • Difficulty with urination or bowel movements, or a change in typical urinary or bowel habits
  • Varying degrees of paralysis


Spondylolisthesis is a condition characterized by spinal instability. It occurs when a vertebra slips forward and rests out of alignment over the vertebra below. If you imagine your spine as a stack of well-aligned blocks, spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the blocks pushes forward, disrupting the alignment between itself and the block beneath it. This condition can result from degenerative disc disease and can cause issues like spinal stenosis.

Symptoms of spondylolisthesis can include:

  • Sciatica
  • Lower back pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Fatigue in the legs, especially after prolonged standing or walking
  • A change in gait
  • Limp development


Similar to a spinal tumor, syringomyelia is the growth of a cyst within the spinal cord. As the cyst grows, it can press on the spinal cord, resulting in pain and damage.

Signs of syringomyelia include:

  • Weakness in the back that becomes worse over time—depending on the location of the cyst, patients can also experience pain in the shoulders, arms, or legs
  • Lack of sensitivity to heat or cold
  • Lack of sensitivity to pain
  • Difficulty walking
  • Difficulty with urination or bowel movements
  • Development of a curved spine

Although back pain is common, it should not be a part of your everyday life. If you suffer from back pain or any of the symptoms mentioned in this article, talk to the spine experts at Georgia Neurosurgical Institute.

Our neurosurgeons are highly trained to treat conditions of the spine, relieve you of your back pain, and help you regain a pain-free life. We work diligently with you to discover the root issue(s) of your pain and create a treatment plan to resolve your symptoms, relieve pain, and improve or even restore your health. Whether you require surgical or nonsurgical solutions, our team will become your partner in health to help you resolve back pain and regain your quality of life.

Schedule an appointment with Georgia Neurosurgical Institute today by calling 478-743-7092.

Georgia Neurosurgical Institute offers exceptional treatments for the brain and spine to patients throughout Middle Georgia. With offices in Macon and satellite locations in Dublin, Locust Grove, and Warner Robins, we’re able to treat patients in and around:

  • Dublin
  • Forsyth
  • Locust Grove
  • Macon
  • McDonough
  • Milledgeville
  • Perry
  • Warner Robins

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