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It’s one of the most common complaints among Americans. It doesn’t discriminate based on race. It doesn’t favor a certain gender. Lower back pain will afflict 80 percent of all adults at some point in their lives. 1 The end result ranges from mild irritation to crippling pain. Anyone faced with chronic back pain should see an experienced spine specialist to discuss their symptoms and treatment options. Everyone can start their spine health education by learning some basic facts and figures related to this widespread ailment.

A Leading Cause of Distress

Over any three-month period, more than 25 percent of adults will suffer low back pain. Their grievance is far from trivial. Pain disrupts the lives of many people. Back pain is the number one reason people miss work. It’s also the leading cause of job-related disabilities. According to some experts, the problem is only getting worse. Once considered the sixth most burdensome condition in the United States, lower back pain has risen to third place in recent years. 2

Types of Back Pain

Pain can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Sometimes the aches disappear within a day. Other people suffer for months, if not years or decades. Roughly 20 percent of people who suffer an acute case of back pain will go on to develop a chronic condition that lasts for up to a year. 3 The type and severity of pain also vary. Some people feel a dull ache that accompanies them through their daily activities. Others experience a sharp, stabbing pain that prevents them from functioning.

What Causes Low Back Pain?

Pain is a symptom of something else. Typically, it results from an underlying condition. Most back disorders are What Causes Low Back Pain?mechanical, meaning they affect the spine, discs, muscles, and/or nerves. Examples include:

  • Ruptured disks
  • Degenerated disks
  • Skeletal problems or irregularities (e.g., scoliosis)
  • Muscle spasms or strains
  • Nerve compression (e.g., sciatica)
  • Acute trauma
  • Long-term lack of exercise 4

Weill Cornell Medicine: Comprehensive Spine is dedicated to providing world-class medical care to people who suffer from back pain. We remain at the forefront of both research and treatment of spinal conditions. Look through our website to learn more about lower back pain treatment options.


  1. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Low Back Pain Fact Sheet.” <>
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. “What Is Back Pain?” <>