Fast Facts: An Easy-to-Read Series of Publications for the Public
U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services
Public Health Service
National Institute of Arthritis
and Musculoskeletal and
National Institutes of Health
1 AMS Circle
Bethesda, Maryland 20892–3675
1–877–22–NIAMS (free of charge)
What Is Back Pain?
Back pain can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain that
makes it hard to move. It can start quickly if you fall or lift something too
heavy, or it can get worse slowly.
Who Gets Back Pain?
Anyone can have back pain, but some things that increase your risk are:
● Getting older. Back pain is more common the older you get. You may first
have back pain when you are 30 to 40 years old.
● Poor physical fitness. Back pain is more common in people who are not fit.
● Being overweight. A diet high in calories and fat can make you gain
weight. Too much weight can stress the back and cause pain.
Inherited diseases or conditions. Some kinds of back pain, such as disc
disease, can be inherited.
● Other diseases. Some types of arthritis and cancer can cause back pain.
● Your job. If you have to lift, push, or pull while twisting your spine, you
may get back pain. If you work at a desk all day and do not sit up straight,
you may also get back pain.
Smoking. Your body may not be able to get enough nutrients to the discs
in your back if you smoke. Smoker’s cough may also cause back pain.
People who smoke are slow to heal, so back pain may last longer.
Another factor is race. For example, black women are two to three times
more likely than white women to have part of the lower spine slip out of
What Are the Causes of Back Pain?
There are many causes of back pain. Mechanical problems with the back itself
can cause pain. Examples are:
● Disc breakdown
● Tense muscles
● Ruptured discs
Injuries from sprains, fractures, accidents, and falls can re