› Non-Specific Back Pain

Causes of Back Pain - Non-Specific or Simple

What is Non-Specific or Simple Lower Back Pain?

Non specific or simple, mechanical low back ache is one of the most common causes of back pain - more than 90% of you will have this particular back problem.

The Top Three Causes of Back Pain

There are three main types:

1.non-specific or simple is the largest group of the three (95%)
2.nerve irritation (sciatica or pinched nerve (<5%)
3.problems which are distinct and specific e.g. like a fracture,cancer or an infection. These more serious problems are much less common (less than 1% of the total).

You can read more about number 2 + 3 in the sciatica and serious back problem sections

The Diagnosis 'Non-Specific' is Like a Bucket

The diagnosis 'non-specific', 'simple' or 'common' is a bit like a bucket - inside that container are all sorts of different things that may be contributing to your problem including:

  • Muscle and ligament strains
  • Joint pulls
  • Plain old back ache - the type many of us get after an activity or staying in one position too long

bucket showing all the different things in the diagnosis of simple back pain

All these different problems go into this bucket. But they do have one thing in common - we can't pin point the exact tissue that is causing your back ache - so that is why it is called 'non-specific'.

The name alone - 'non-specific' - tells us a lot about what we know about this type of backache. What the name says is that this is a problem can't be pinned down to an exact cause.

We do know what it isn't:

  • it is not affecting a nerve
  • and it's not serious

But it is very hard, often impossible, to be 100% certain about the exact cause of the ache, where it is coming from and why you may have it.

Why Does This Type of Back Ache Have So Many Names?

The names are based on:

  • Where it is felt - like lumbago (lumbar = the anatomy name for the lower back area)

  • The part of your body that might be hurting - such as muscle spasm, pulled or torn back muscles, strained ligaments and joints.

  • The things you do that make your back painful - such as postural back ache (soreness from being in certain positions too long).

But all these names are really describing 'non-specific' back problems.


Non-Specific or Simple Lower Back Pain Guidelines

Balagué, F. et al., 2012. Non-specific low back pain. The Lancet, 379(9814), pp.482–91.