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What Causes Degenerative Discs and Herniated Discs continued...

With age, these cushioning discs gradually wear away and shrink, a condition known as degenerative disc disease. Discs can also tear or become injured. Sometimes the weakening of a disc can put pressure on its jelly-like center. Wisneski describes this process as similar to a bubble forming on your car's tire.

"You hit a bump in the road, then all of a sudden that tire goes pop," he says. In the case of your back, that pressure can lead to a herniated disc (also called a "slipped disc" or "ruptured disc"), in which the center of the disc bulges.

Sometimes that bulging causes the material from inside the disc to press on the sensitive nerves that carry messages to the brain. The result can be the kind of excruciating pain Laird has experienced. "If I move wrong, I get what I call a 'sonic boom’ -- this jolt of electricity through my pelvic area," she says.

A herniated disc in the lower back can put pressure on the nerve that extends down the spinal column. This commonly causes pain to radiate to the buttocks and all the way down the leg. This condition is called sciatica.

Other Conditions Causing Lower Back Pain

There are many causes of back pain. Overuse injuries are a very common source of lower back pain and stiffness. However this usually goes away after a few days. Others causes of chronic pain include:

  • Disc tear
  • Spondylolisthesis. Normal wear and tear makes it hard for your joints and ligaments to keep your spine in the proper position, especially as we age. When a vertebrae moves more than it should, it can slide forward and on top of another. When this happens, bones can press on the spinal nerves and cause lower back pain.
  • Vertebral fractures caused by osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • Spinal stenosis. A narrowing of the spine space around the spinal cord can put pressure on nerves. The narrowing is typically caused by bone spurs that have developed as a result of osteoarthritis.
  • Scoliosis. An abnormal curvature of the spine can cause back pain.

Less commonly, low back pain can be a sign of a serious medical condition, such as diabetes or a pinched nerve. In the case of a pinched nerve, the pain may be accompanied by symptoms like fever, chills, night sweats, or loss of bladder control.

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