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Can Back Pain Cause Permanent Disability?

Can Back Pain Cause Permanent Disability?

Permanent disability in cases of low back pain is an extremely rare event. About 80% of low back pain cases are nonspecific low back pain. This type of back pain is a result of common conditions of a mechanical cause like sprains and strains. Less than 10% of people are affected by back pain as a result of nerve irritation. An example of this is radiculopathy, commonly called sciatica. It describes the mechanical or chemical irritation to a nerve root that exits from the spinal cord. Less than 1% of people are affected by serious medical problems causing back pain. In a small number of these cases the condition may cause permanent disability.

Types of low back pain

We can group low back pain into three main types: nonspecific or mechanical, radiculopathy, and serious pathology.

Nonspecific low back pain is a very common, but complex condition. Many factors can be involved in someone developing low back pain. These factors include occupational stressors, obesity and inactivity, smoking, older age and mental stress. Generally speaking, most people will fully recover from an episode of nonspecific low back pain. Examples include muscle strains and ligament or capsule sprains.

Low back pain due to radiculopathy refers to inflammation or irritation of the nerve root where it exits the spinal cord. Usually there is pain and abnormal sensations felt in a specific pattern along the limbs. People refer to this as sciatica. It can take a while for people to recover from this type of low back pain. But, usually it does not cause long-term issues either with most people recovering by 6 months of treatment. The most common reason people get this is due to a spinal disc injury. But, it does not have to be a sudden fall or injury; these things can occur over a long period of time with constant and inappropriate loading of the spine.

Serious pathology refers to the presence of ‘red flag’ signs and symptoms in low back pain cases. Examples of red flag signs and symptoms include bowel and bladder changes, unrelenting night pain, night sweats or chills and unexplained weight loss. Red flags are associated with a poorer outcome. Even though, most of these people will not be left with disability, especially if they see a doctor as quick as possible.

How serious is low back pain?

Most cases of low back pain are nonspecific low back pain. These are very common and very rarely cause serious back pain. This type of low back pain can cause a great deal of pain, but it is important to know that in most cases it is not serious and will get better. Interestingly, people who have little or no pain, but also present with unusual signs and symptoms are of more worry to experts. This is because they might be presenting with a serious pathology.

Permanent disability in low back pain

In cases where back pain is due to serious pathology and medical help was not sought, pain might be permanent. In cases of bone cancer, while very rare, people might not experience much pain or other obvious symptoms and therefore not seek medical care. The disease will continue to spread and affect other areas in the body, which can lead to permanent disability. It is therefore important to seek medical help if you experience symptoms such as fever, night pain, chills, bowel and bladder changes, unexplained weight loss or a history of cancer with or without low back pain.

More information

Please visit our website and blog pages for more information on what causes back pain:

Balmain Chiropractic Centre is the chiropractic division of Sydney Spine & Sports Centre.


Room 1 - Shop 86, 24 Buchanan Street Balmain 2041 NSW Australia


Phone (02) 80211172