People routinely have no pain despite the presence of obvious arthritic degeneration, herniated discs, and other seemingly serious structural problems like stenosis and spondylolistheses. This surprising contradiction has been made clear by a wide variety of research over the years, but the most notable in recent history is Brinjikji 2015. There are painful spinal problems, of course — which was also shown by Brinjikji et al in a companion paper — but they are mostly more rare and unpredictable than most people suspect, and there are many fascinating examples of people who “should” be in pain but are not, and vice versa. Spinal problems are only one of many ingredients in back pain. BACK TO TEXT

• Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones loose so much mass that they become brittle and prone to break with slight trauma. The condition, which can occur with aging, inactivity, a low-calcium diet or use of corticosteroid medications, commonly affects the spine. When this occurs in the spine, the inner spongy bone and more solid outer portion of the vertebrae become porous. The weakened vertebrae can break – an injury called a compression fracture – and lose about one-half of their height. In most cases, compression fractures, are painful. In some cases, the resulting back pain is severe. Usually, the pain resolves within a few weeks, but for some people, it is long-lasting.


Piriformis syndrome is a type of neurological injury that is caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. The piriformis muscle sits deep within the buttock, behind the gluteus maximus. It starts at the lower spine and connects to the femur muscle. This nerve can become compressed from swelling of the piriformis muscle due to injury or muscle spasms or inflammation. Piriformis syndrome causes symptoms including pain in the back of the thigh, pain in the back of knee, buttock pain, pain in the calf, pain in sciatic nerve branches (pain in the nerves of leg and the buttocks, then), shooting pain in the legs, and hip pain after sitting.


A sedentary lifestyle can lead to having weak and tight hip flexors as they are always in the shortened position. Tight hip flexors can lead to a limited range of motion, poor posture, lower back and hip pain, and even injuries. These muscles need to get a workout when you are standing and doing movements such as raising your leg to climb stairs, run, or ride a bicycle.​

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