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No Clear Reason?

"A lot of the time, we can't find the cause of a person's back pain," says Steven P. Cohen, MD, a pain medicine professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Doctors call those cases "nonspecific." The pain is real. It's just that tests and scans don't show the cause.

There is good news. Even when doctors can't find the cause of back pain, they still have treatments that can help, Cohen says.

What Makes Back Pain More Likely

You can take action to prevent or change many of the common causes of back pain, including:

  • Extra pounds. The heavier you are, the more stress you put on your back. Getting to a healthy weight can help.

  • Your daily habits. "The shoes we wear, the jobs we have, the way we sit, the way we sleep, all of these things can affect or cause back pain," says Lynn R. Webster, MD, president-elect of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.  A lot of this is about your posture. Do you hunch over your computer? Do you wear high heels that make you arch your back? Do you stand with a slump? Working on those things may make a difference.

  • Sedentary lifestyle. Not getting enough exercise is a common trigger for back pain. The stronger your back and core muscles are, the less likely you are to have back pain. If you're not active now, you can change that. Check in with your doctor about what you can do. If you can work with a trainer at first to learn good form, that may help you get started.

  • Smoking. It hampers blood flow, including to the spine. If you're injured, that can slow down healing. Chronic smoker's cough can also cause back pain. Back pain is one more reason to keep trying to quit until you're done with smoking for good.

  • Stress. If you're stressed, your muscles may be tense. That makes strains or sprains more likely. Finding ways to manage your stress can help.
  • Depression. Back pain and depression often go together, and each can make the other worse. Depression can be treated.

Back Pain Poll

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