Burning back pain can strike at any moment, and when that happens, you will go to any lengths to make the pain stop. Learning why you are feeling this pain and how to stop it will help you in the short and long run. To learn a few reasons why you are feeling a burning sensation in your back, continue reading.
Many of us struggle with back pain at some point in our lives. In fact, back pain is one of the most common patient complaints to doctors, according Georgetown University Health Policy Institute, with 65 million Americans reporting a recent episode.
For some of us, the pain is temporary. For others, it’s chronic. Short-lived or long-term, if your back pain is accompanied by a burning sensation, you know it can feel just like it sounds—super-inflamed and almost hot to the touch.
“Back pain can come in a lot of forms,” says Dr. Joseph Lee, M.D., an assistant professor in the department of orthopedics and department of rehabilitation medicine at the Ichan School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, NY, including “a burning sensation,” he confirms.
So, what’s at the root of it? Understanding what is causing that hot, painful sensation running along and near your spine may help you better treat it—and manage (or even prevent) your symptoms going forward.
Understanding Your Back
Before we break down why you may be feeling burning pain in your back, it’s good to understand your back’s anatomy and how it works to support your body. Problems with any one of these structures can cause back pain, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMSD).
The four regions of the spine are:
- Cervical spine
- Lumbar spine
- Sacrum and coccyx
- Thoracic spine
Per the NIAMSD, the parts of your back (from major players to supporting roles) include:
- Spinal cord, including the nerves that run down your back
- Vertebrae, which protect your spinal cord with small bones that stack on top of one another
- Intervertebral discs, which cushion your vertebrae
- Ligaments, which help hold your vertebrae in place
- Tendons, which are tissues that connect your muscles to your bones, per the NIAMSD
- Muscles, the fibers that support your upper body and spine
If something goes wrong with any of those parts, boy, does your back let you know. Yet, different backs—belonging to different people, of course—can deliver that message in different ways. That’s because your nervous system is intimately involved in how you experience back pain, sending out messages that are highly individualized. Meaning, your nerves may communicate painful, burning HEAT, while others’ systems are saying something else entirely. Rather than burning, some people may feel numbness or tingling, or “a sharp stabbing sensation … an aching sensation, [or] feel like there is a knot in their back,” Dr. Lee explains. Even if the root cause may be the same.
What Causes Burning Back Pain?
If you’re experiencing burning back pain, it’s important to consider any obvious culprits, like a known injury. Determine whether the sensation could be related to an insect bite or sting. Fever, cough, or additional body aches may point to something like a viral infection (including yellow fever virus, for example), which can present with burning back pain, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Other possible causes of burning back pain include:
Arachnoiditis, caused by trauma, infection, or irritation (sometimes from surgery) of the nerve roots, is inflammation of the tissue surrounding your spinal nerves. It’s a rare condition, but in those who experience its symptoms, burning pain in the low or middle back sometimes occurs, per the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Arthritis is wear and tear in your cartilage, in this case found in the joints and discs in your back. It’s more common in people who are 45 and older, per the CDC, and in those who battle obesity. Burning back pain can be the result of arthritis, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
When the muscles in your back seize up, your back can spasm. Some people feel aching pain when this occurs, but others experience burning pain from back spasms, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Being Too Sedentary—or Too Active
Dr. Lee mentions that “part of [the burning pain] can be attributed to your lifestyle. “Too sedentary of a lifestyle is not good for the spine because the spine and the body becomes deconditioned,” he explains. The reverse can be true, too: “Sometimes, an overactive lifestyle can put excess strain on the body and on the spine, as well.”
Bone spurs are growths along bone edges, often joints, that occur due to stressors and joint instability. Sometimes, the bone growth can reach the nerves in the spine and compress them, resulting in burning pain, per the NIAMSD.