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Life in Motion

Could Your Back Pain Be Caused By Inflammation?

Back, Neck & Spine

80% of Americans will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime, and it is one of the most common reasons people visit the doctor. Back pain can have many causes, but one increasingly common concern is inflammatory back pain. In fact, about 1/3 of patients presenting with low back pain actually turn out to have inflammatory arthritis. Here, Gerald Miley, MD, rheumatologist at NEBH, explains what inflammatory back pain is, symptoms, and treatment.

Mechanical Back Pain vs. Inflammatory Back Pain

Inflammatory back pain is different than mechanical back pain. Mechanical back pain is typically caused by an issue with the spinal joints, discs, vertebrae, or soft tissues. Inflammatory back pain on the other hand is associated with a host of diseases called spondyloarthropathies, sometimes referred to as spondyloarthritis.

Spondyloarthropathies is a term for inflammatory diseases that involve both the joints and the entheses (the sites where ligaments and tendons attach to the bones), including ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis and enteropathic arthritis, which is associated with inflammatory bowel disease. It most often affects the spine, but can also affect the hands, feet, arms and legs.

Symptoms of Inflammatory Back Pain

For most people who suffer from inflammatory back pain, it starts at a young age (typically under 35) and lasts for longer than three months. The pain and stiffness is worst in the morning or after a period of being inactive, and can ease with activity and exercise. The pain also tends to radiate to the buttocks. Ankylosing spondylitis is more common in men, with average time to diagnosis about eight years for men and nine years for women.


If you think you have inflammatory back pain, it is important you see a rheumatology expert. They can work with you for treatment of the inflammation with medication, which often results in significant improvement in symptoms and is essential to reducing the risk for permanent joint damage.

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