Back Pain and Spinal Health: Common Conditions and Risks

At some stage in their lives, everyone will suffer some degree of back pain. For some this pain may be a brief twinge that rights itself within hours or a few days at most and for others it will be an ongoing pain that will dog them for the rest of their lives. Knowing the cause of the pain and getting suitable treatment can help improve your quality of life.

While spinal health issues and back pain are occasionally caused by spinal cord issues, the vast majority of spine conditions are due to issues with vertebrae or discs.

A sideways curvature of the spine, scoliosis tends to develop in late childhood during growth spurts. The condition ranges from mild to severe, with more severe cases potentially requiring surgical correction or long term use of an orthopedic brace. Typical symptoms include having a shoulder sloping towards a raised hip, prominent ribs and back pain. In severe cases, the spinal curvature can limit mobility and cause breathing trouble. 


Whereas scoliosis is an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine, kyphosis is an abnormal outward curvature of the spine, leading to what is referred to as “roundback” in mild cases and a “hunchback” in severe cases. The vast majority of people living with kyphosis have no problems related to the condition and require no treatment. More severe cases may require the wearing of a corrective brace or perform specific exercises to promote back and spine strength. The most severe instances of kyphosis can cause pain and breathing problems. These cases may require surgery to treat.

Ankylosing Spondylitis

A kind of inflammatory arthritis that affects the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis is an incurable condition that can cause the vertebrae to fuse together, limiting spine flexibility and leading to pain in the spine and joints. While incurable, spondylitis can be treated with a combination of exercise and medication designed to reduce pain and increase flexibility.  

Cervical Spondylosis

Also known as cervical osteoarthritis, cervical spondylosis is a common form of age related degeneration of the bones and discs in the cervical spine (neck). In addition to normal wear and tear on the bones and discs in the neck, spondylosis can also be caused by injury, herniated discs and other damage to the neck. Common symptoms include pain and neck and shoulder blades. This pain can sometimes also radiate into the arms and hands.


A condition that affects the vertebrae of the lower spine, causing the vertebrae to slip forward and press on the vertebrae beneath, leading to persistent pain in the lower back and possible pain and stiffness in the legs. Age, heredity and lifestyle can all lead to spondylolisthesis. Spondylolysis is a precursor to spondylolisthesis. This occurs when there is a fracture to a vertebrae but there is yet to be pressure put on a lower vertebrae. Spondylolisthesis is treatable via a variety of methods including back braces, medication, physiotherapy, manipulative therapies and exercise.


The sciatic nerve travels from the lower spine to the buttock, the back of the thigh and then into the leg. Pressure on this nerve can cause burning pain in the buttock or leg, pins and needles in the leg, a persistent ache in the leg and buttock or muscle weakness. Sciatica can be treated with manipulative therapy (chiropractic, physiotherapy, osteopathy), medication and even surgery in severe cases. 


A kind of arthritis, spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the channel through which the spinal cord passes. This narrowing puts pressure on the spinal cord, leading to pain and weakness in the limbs, problems with walking or balance, neck and back pain, cramping and even bladder and bowel problems. Stenosis is usually treated with pain relieving medication and physical therapy to increase strength and coordination. In severe cases surgery may be a last resort solution. This surgery involves removing some bone and ligaments from the vertebrae to free up space around the spinal cord. 

When bones lose minerals faster than the body can replace them, they become thin and brittle and can break easily. Osteoporosis is a common disease in Australia, affecting around 1 million people, and while not strictly a spinal issue, vertebral fractures are a common symptom of the condition. In addition to spinal fractures, osteoporosis can lead to a loss of height from the vertebrae being compressed, a stoop or hunched posture and pain. Women are more likely to develop osteoporosis than men. 


A disorder resulting from severe compression of the spinal cord. Depending on the location of the compression, symptoms may vary but include pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, issues with balance or coordination, bladder and bowel problems and difficulties with fine motor control. Myelopathy can occur anywhere in the spine, with the name and symptoms changing depending on location. Cervical myelopathy is the most common form of the condition and can affect balance, sensation in the arms and hands, strength, fine motor control and coordination. Treatments vary due to the location and underlying cause of the myelopathy. 

Herniated discs

The vertebrae in the spine are cushioned by spongy discs that allow for flexibility and movement in the spine. These discs are made up of two parts, a soft, jelly-like centre (the nucleus) and a tough, rubbery exterior (the annulus). A herniated disc, sometimes referred to as a slipped or ruptured disc, occurs when the arrulus ruptures or splits and some of the nucleus bulges out and puts pressure on nearby nerves. Herniated discs can occur anywhere in the spine, with symptoms varying with location of the hernia. Common symptoms include pain and/or numbness on one side of the body, tingling or burning sensations and muscle weakness.  

Vertebral Compression fractures (VCF)

Osteoporosis is the most common cause of vertebral compression fractures in people over 55, and those with a VCF due to osteoporosis are more likely to have subsequent fractures. In younger people, vertebral compression fractures are most commonly caused by trauma, such as car accidents, sports injuries and falls. Spinal tumours can also lead to VCF. Symptoms of a compression fracture include the sudden onset of pain, limited spinal mobility, weakness in limbs and possible eventual deformity or disability.

Don’t ignore pain and discomfort - take care of your spine and book an appointment with a physiotherapist now.

Although they sound the same and the terms are often conflated, sprains and strains are different things. Strains occur due to an injury to a tendon or muscle whereas sprains occur when a ligament (the material that connects bones to other bones) becomes damaged, frayed or torn. Sprains and strains are amongst the most common of all spinal issues and can be caused by a number of factors, including improper lifting technique, being overweight, bad posture, a sudden fall or twist, or even just stepping off a gutter wrong. Cramping, spasms and pain are common symptoms of sprains and strains, and for the most part they are easily treated with rest, exercise and in some cases, medication and manipulative therapy.


A specific form of neck strain caused by the sudden movement of the head forward, backwards or from side to side beyond the normal range. This sudden and exaggerated movement causes damage to the soft tissues - muscles, tendons and ligaments - of the neck, causing pain in the neck and shoulders as well as some potential more serious symptoms. These serious symptoms include a loss of movement in the neck, dizziness, difficulty swallowing, weakness, vertigo and tinnitus. Whiplash is typically caused by car accidents but can also be caused by impact to the head or neck or a fall. 

Degenerative Disc Disease

An age related condition that occurs when one or more discs breaks down or deteriorates, leading to extra pressure on the vertebrae and pain. Although called  degenerative disc disease, the condition is not actually a disease but rather a culmination of natural factors causing the deterioration of discs, such as drying out with age or herniations from injury or repetitive strain. The most common symptom related to degenerative disc disease is pain, the level of which varies from mild to severe, and the location and nature of the pain varies based on the discs that have degenerated. 

The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis affects the joints when the cartilage that cushions the joints, or the discs in the spine, break down and the joints become damaged as a result. Although any joint can be affected by osteoarthritis, the condition is most often found in the hands, knees, hips and spine. Pain, stiffness, swelling, loss of flexibility and bone spurs can all result from osteoarthritis. While the symptoms of the condition can be treated with medication, physiotherapy and exercise, damage to the joints cannot be repaired.   

In many cases, one of the most effective treatments available for back pain is physiotherapy, as it may not only ease the pain but also help protect the spine from further damage or issues in the future. If you’d like to make an appointment to see a doctor about neck or back issues, or schedule a consultation with a physiotherapist to get some help dealing with pain and to stop it recurring, the easiest way to find and book an appointment online is with MyHealth1st.

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