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Complications of Back Pain

By Noreen Kassem ; Updated August 14, 2017

Between 80 and 90 percent of people in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point in their lives, according to Cleveland Clinic. Back pain originates from damage or injury to the vertebral bones, discs, ligaments, muscles and nerves of the spine and back. This pain can be a mild, dull ache or a sharp, shooting or stabbing pain. In some cases, chronic or severe back pain can lead to complications.


Back pain is the most common cause of absence from work due to disability, a source of high health care expenses, according to the Cleveland Clinic. It is the most common reason for disability in working adults resulting in sick leave. As discussed by the University of Maryland Medical Center, this is usually because back pain limits mobility and range of motion required for standing, bending and sitting.

Nerve Damage

If the back pain results from a slipped or herniated disc, this may irritate, compress and damage the spinal nerve as it passes through the nerve canal between the vertebrae. This results in a variety of complications such as weakness and numbness in the leg and severe shooting pain traveling from the back to the leg at one side of the body due to sciatica. This occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed or damaged causing symptoms in the leg. In severe cases, nerve damage can also cause problems in bladder and bowel or intestinal functions.


Chronic back pain or pain that lasts for more than a few days can disrupt sleeping, eating patterns and other activities such as socializing and entertainment. This loss of mobility can result in emotional distress, anxiety and depression. Depression can become severe and impede recovery time as individuals lack motivation and energy to exercise and do other activities. Long-term use of medications for back pain can also cause dependency and addiction.

Weight Gain

Back pain causes a loss of activity and restricts movement leading to weight gain and obesity. Muscles may also become weaker due to staying in one position for long periods and body posture may worsen due to muscle and ligament weakness, resulting in body fat accumulation.

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