• Dr. Eric Carlsen

Who Gets Back Pain?


woman sitting at desk with hand on low back in pain

Pretty much, anyone, it depends on where it hurts.

Upper Back

Chronic upper back pain affects 15 to 19% of people globally. Those suffering tend to fall into certain age groups. For instance, one study found that postmenopausal women are at greater risk, likely due to the risk of osteoporosis and vertebral compression fractures.

Your career choice may also lead to upper back pain. Those who have to hunch for long periods, such as dentists and eye doctors, report higher incidences of upper back pain. Office workers frequently have upper back pain due to poor ergonomics.

Mid-back

So, what about pain in the mid-back—low in the thoracic spine and even the top of the lumbar? Adolescents get it a lot. According to a 2016 study, between 13% and 45% of children and adolescents will have mid-back pain in a given four-year period.”

A Danish report, which studied overall spinal pain in 11 and 13-year-olds, reported increased mid-back pain if the kids were more physically active than most. Mid-back pain is also a common result of car accidents.

Lower Back

You’ll often get mid-back pain from pushing your body too hard, but lower back pain can come from not pushing it hard enough. A sedentary lifestyle is a big contributor to low back pain.

One study says that reporting of chronic low back pain has gone from 3.9% in 1992 to 10.2% in 2006. While reasons are unclear for this increase, a couple of possible factors include higher rates of obesity and depression.


What Are Some Different Types of Back Pain?

The first thing you should probably know about back pain is that it can last anywhere from a few days to years, and that timeline makes a big difference in how your pain is diagnosed and treated.

  • Acute back pain is defined as severe but lasting a short time, usually 7 to 10 days.

  • Subacute pain can last from two to six weeks.

  • Chronic back pain usually occurs every day and sticks around for longer than six to eight weeks. It can be severe and last months or even years but may be characterized as mild, deep, achy, burning, or electric-like.

Beyond the when there’s also the where. Mechanical pain means that the source of your pain may lie in the facet joints, discs, soft tissues, or vertebrae.

Back pain that travels into another part of the body, such as the leg, may be considered radicular pain (because it radiates; get it?), particularly when it radiates below the knee. This scenario is commonly called lumbar radiculopathy (e.g., sciatica). Fortunately, not all occurrences of back pain include leg pain.

Perhaps you’ve heard of inflammatory pain. While it sounds like it could be a separate type of pain from mechanical and radicular pain, it’s actually an element of both. Dr. Knight explains, “Symptoms of pain, whether mechanical or radicular, share a component of inflammation.”

Simply put, inflammation is when your body knows something isn’t right and “flares up” as a result.

Credit: Spine Universe: Reginald Q. Knight, MD, MHA and Shelby Deering

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