Back Pain & Back Problems

Why Does It Hurt?

Your spine is a slender segmented column consisting of twenty-four vertebra resting atop a narrow sacral base. The vertebrae are stacked in three unique segments: seven in the neck (cervical); twelve in the middle back (thoracic); and five in the low back (lumbar). The spine rises out of the pelvis in three gentle curves—forming an "S" shape designed to bring a balanced center of gravity to the top-heavy torso.

The human spine is a marvel of nature—it can flex, bend, extend, and twist. Since the spine's anatomy allows for a wide range of tasks, it also produces a wide range of pain and symptoms based on movement. The transmission of pain is a result of three stimuli: chemical (swelling); mechanical pressure; and temperature.

Your pathway to treatment, and even your psychological experience of back pain, depends on the type of back problem with which you're diagnosed. By now you may be asking: What are the symptoms and causes of back pain, and how do I know if I'm experiencing a distinct range of warning signs or symptoms associated with a medically defined condition? Let's take a closer look at some key medical definitions and causes.


Major Types of Back Problems & Pain

Spinal Stenosis:

Spinal stenosis occurs mainly in the neck and lower back due to the narrowing of open space within your spine. This places significant pressure on your spinal cord and nerves.

Herniated Disk:

Sometimes referred to as a slipped or ruptured disk, a herniated disk typically occurs in the lower back and irritates nerves—producing pain, numbness, or weakness in the arms or legs. It's one of the most common sources of lower back pain.

Degenerative Disk:

Although not formally a disease, degenerative disk disease refers to the deterioration of spinal discs as you age. The result is intense pain, damaged nerve function, and restricted mobility.

Neck Pain:

A common and persistent complaint, neck pain can result from muscle strain during sleep, poor posture, and natural wear-and-tear coupled with a lack of exercise and stretching. It is defined as the area from the base of the skull to the shoulders, but it can spread to your upper back and arms.

Lower Back Pain:

Beyond being a byproduct of aging, lower back pain occurs anywhere below the ribs but above the legs. It can happen from lifting, reaching, or twisting and it's the most common form of back pain because the lower back bears most of your body's weight and range of motion.

Upper or Middle Back Pain:

Occurring anywhere between the base of your neck and the bottom of your rib cage, upper back pain may be the least common form of back problems—but it can influence your neck and lower back. The upper spine is essentially the anchor of your rib cage, protecting vital organs like your heart and lungs; when muscular irritation occurs from overuse, lack of strength, side bending, and prolonged bent postures—vital spinal facet joints and discs are exposed to significant damage risk.

Nighttime Back Pain:

A vast majority of nighttime cases result in lower back pain. If you repeatedly feel worse in the morning, don't automatically assume that this is an inconsequential or temporary occurrence—consistent pain may be a sign of larger spinal problems. To begin a solution process, consult your doctor and consider changing your mattress.


Common Back Pain Symptoms