Health Information

Back and Neck Pain

What is low back pain?

Low back pain can range from mild, dull, annoying pain, to persistent, severe, disabling pain in the lower back. Pain in the lower back can restrict mobility and interfere with normal functioning.

What causes back and neck pain?

Even with today's technology, the exact cause of back and neck pain can be found in very few cases. In most cases, back and neck pain may be a symptom of many different causes, including any of the following:
  • overuse, strenuous activity, or improper use such as repetitive or heavy lifting
  • trauma, injury, or fractures
  • degeneration of vertebrae, often caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine, or the effects of aging
  • infection
  • abnormal growth such as a tumor or bone spur
  • obesity due to increased weight on the spine and pressure on the discs
  • poor muscle tone
  • muscle tension or spasm
  • sprain or strain
  • ligament or muscle tears
  • joint problems such as arthritis
  • smoking
  • protruding or herniated (slipped) disk and pinched nerve
  • osteoporosis and compression fractures
  • congenital (present at birth) abnormalities of the vertebrae and bones

Treatment Programs

Massachusetts General Hospital understands that a variety of factors influence patients' health care decisions. That's just one reason why we're dedicated to ensuring patients understand their diagnosis and treatment options. Because a single option might not serve all patients, we offer a wide range of coordinated treatments and related services across the hospital. Patients should consult with their primary care doctor or other qualified health care provider for medical advice and diagnosis information.