This list includes some of the conditions and diseases that can cause back and neck pain.
Arthritis is a general term that refers to conditions that cause damage to joints. There are many different kinds of arthritis. The most common is osteoarthritis, which is caused by a breakdown of joint cartilage, resulting in chronic pain, stiffness and loss of mobility.
Bone Spurs (Osteophytes)
Bone spurs, or osteophytes, are bony projections that form along the edges of bones. Though they can form anywhere, they usually affect joints. While bone spurs themselves are not painful, they can put pressure on nerves or other bones, resulting in pain or numbness. There is no single cause of bone spurs, though they are associated with changes in joints due to disease or aging. Conditions and diseases associated with bone spurs include spondylosis, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease and osteoarthritis, among others.
Degenerative Disc Disease
Discs are pads of cartilage that separate the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. They act as shock absorbers and allow for flexibility and movement of the spine. As we age, discs naturally begin to dehydrate and break down. For most people, this is not a problem, but for some, disc degeneration can cause pain or lead to other spinal conditions, such as spinal stenosis or spondylolisthesis. Contrary to its name, degenerative disc disease is not a disease but rather a disorder of the spine and is often successfully treated with minimally invasive measures. In addition to pain in the lower back, symptoms of degenerative disc disease include aching, tingling or weakness in the buttocks, thighs or legs.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition characterized by fatigue and widespread pain in the muscles, joints or bones. Other symptoms can include depression, numbness in the hands or feet, stomach problems, headaches, facial pain, stiffness in the neck or shoulders, or heightened sensitivity to touch, smells, noise or light. There is no definitive cause of fibromyalgia. It is not progressive or life-threatening and can improve with treatment and self-care.
Discs are pads of cartilage that separate the vertebrae (bones) of the spine. They act as shock absorbers and allow for flexibility and movement of the spine. As we age, discs naturally begin to dehydrate and break down. Over time, the outer fibrous covering of the disc may develop tears, allowing the soft, jelly-like inner layer to bulge. This herniated disc can then put pressure on spinal nerves, causing pain, tingling or numbness in the back or legs.
Kyphosis is a forward curvature of the upper spine, sometimes referred to as hunchback or round back. Symptoms include a slouching posture, back pain, stiffness or tenderness of the spine, and fatigue, though mild cases may have no noticeable side effects. Severe kyphosis can affect nerves, tissues and organs and can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes and fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord caused by an infection. Meningitis is contagious and, if left untreated, can be fatal. Early symptoms of meningitis mimic those of the flu: high fever, severe headache, nausea and vomiting, stiff neck and loss of appetite, among others.
Osteoporosis is a bone disease that makes your bones so weak and porous that they can break very easily from even minor activity, such as bending over, getting out of a car or coughing. Women are more prone to developing osteoporosis because they generally have less bone mass; however, men are still at risk. Osteoporosis is often called a “silent disease” because bone loss occurs without noticeable symptoms. If bone loss is severe, it manifests in the form of easily broken bones (particularly in the spine, hip and wrist), back pain, height reduction and back curvature.
Sciatica refers to pain that radiates along the path of the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve is the longest nerve in the body, running from the pelvis through the buttocks and hips and down the back of each leg. Sciatica is not a condition unto itself; it is actually a symptom of another problem, usually a herniated disk, though other causes can include spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis and spinal tumors.
Scoliosis is a side-to-side curving of the spine. From the side view, the spine is slightly S-shaped, with the upper back bowing slightly out and the lower back tilting slightly in. However, from the back, the spine should appear to be a straight line. In children and adults with scoliosis, the spine appears curved when viewed from the back. This curvature, however, may be so slight that it is not apparent to anyone other than a physician. Most cases of scoliosis are not severe and merely require regular monitoring by a doctor and perhaps special exercises. When scoliosis is severe, complications can include back pain and compression on the lungs or heart. Causes of scoliosis can include differences in leg length, an underlying neuromuscular disease or a birth defect, though most all cases of scoliosis are diagnosed without a known cause.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal, causing pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves. Spinal stenosis can be caused by a number of other conditions, including osteoarthritis, herniated discs, osteoporosis or spinal tumors. Symptoms of spinal stenosis are usually gradual, starting out minor and increasingly getting worse over time. These include cramping, pain or numbness in the back, legs, hips, neck, shoulders or arms. Spinal stenosis can also result in urinary or fecal incontinence.
Spinal tumors are cancerous or benign growths that develop inside or near the spinal cord or in the space between the spinal cord and the vertebrae. Tumors in or near the spine can compress the spinal cord and nerve roots, causing severe back pain, numbness, incontinence or muscle weakness, particularly in the legs.
Spondylitis is a type of arthritis that causes the joints between the spinal vertebrae and between the spine and pelvis to become inflamed. As spondylitis progresses, bony outgrowths can form between vertebrae, fusing them together and causing an inflexible, stiff back. Symptoms of spondylitis include chronic pain and stiffness in the lower back, buttocks and hips. Pain is often worse after periods of inactivity, especially at night and in the morning after waking. Other symptoms include stooping, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, eye inflammation and in rare cases, lung and heart problems. The cause of spondylitis is unknown, though there is a strong genetic link.
Spondylolisthesis is a condition in which a vertebra in the spine shifts slightly forward over another vertebra. Spondylolisthesis occurs most often in the lower back. The displaced vertebra can put pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots and cause pain, numbness or weakness in the back, legs or hips. In some cases, spondylolisthesis can cause a loss of bladder or bowel control. However, some people with spondylolisthesis may not experience any symptoms, or symptoms may take years to manifest.