Back Pain: The Basics

The back and spine are designed to provide your body with strength, serve to protect the spinal cord and nerve roots while still being flexible, providing mobility. But, did you know 8 out of 10 adults will experience an episode of back pain in their lifetime? It is the second most common cause of missed workdays and the most common cause of disability; it’s as much a part of the human condition as the common cold.

While back pain is common, most cases will resolve themselves with time; this is acute back pain. About half of patients that experience acute back pain will see relief in two weeks and 90% within three months. Most of these cases are also self-limited, 5-10% will become long lasting and recurrent, or chronic. Chronic back pain accounts for 90% of healthcare expenditures for back pain and amounts to a whopping $50-$80 billion dollars annually.

What Produces Back Pain?

There are many different structures in the back that are capable of producing pain. There are large nerve roots that run down the legs and arms and then smaller nerves inside the spine. You also have two large, paired back muscles that could get strained and your bones, ligaments and joints may be injured.

Back pain doesn’t necessarily mean nerve damage, even if the pain is severe. Most pain syndromes are due to inflammation (where a part of the body becomes reddened, swollen, hot and painful due to injury or infection). This is especially true during the acute phase, where the pain only lasts for a couple weeks to a few months. However, there are two instances in which acute back pain indicates nerve damage:

  1. Bowel and/or bladder incontinence (the loss of control)

  2. Progressive weakness in the legs


If you experience one of those two symptoms, you should seek medical attention immediately as this constitutes a medical emergency. These symptoms could be due to nerve pinching and, if not treated right away, could cause permanent damage. Fortunately, this is extremely rare.

According to, back pain can take on many characteristics:


  • The pain may be constant, intermittent, or only occur with certain positions or activities.

  • The pain may remain in one spot or refer or radiate to other areas.

  • It may be a dull ache, or a sharp or piercing or burning sensation.

  • The problem may be in the neck or low back but may radiate into the leg or foot (sciatica), arm or hand.


Who Experiences Back Pain?

Generally, adults ranging in age from 30-60 are the most likely to experience acute back pain from the disc space itself (lumbar disc herniation or degenerative disc disease). Adults older than 60 years of age typically suffer from degeneration of the joints in the back.

If you are experiencing any back pain and would like to talk to a nurse navigator or one of our board certified and fellowship trained Orthopaedic Spine Surgeons about your symptoms, do not hesitate to call us at 402-415-2332 or you can schedule an appointment online.