How common is back pain?

Eighty-five to 90% of American adults will experience an episode of back pain during their lifetime. Back pain is the second most common reason people visit their family doctor (just behind upper respiratory infections).

On any given day, almost 2% of the entire United States workforce is disabled by back pain. In people under age 40, back pain is the most common reason for inability to perform daily activities.

Pain that affects primarily the back should be distinguished from spinal conditions that result in predominant leg pain, commonly called sciatica. Typically, sciatica is the result of a "pinched nerve" in the spinal column. In most cases, the cause of the sciatica is clear, such as disc or arthritic spur.

The cause of an episode of back pain, on the other hand, is often more difficult to pinpoint, and may be related to the spinal discs, joints, vertebrae, or soft tissue supports (muscles, ligaments, tendons).

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 03/30/2017.


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