Last Updated on 20 July 2022 by Ray Plumlee

Skeletal View of the Spinal Column
Skeletal View of the Spinal Column

Almost everybody will experience back pain at some time in their life. Experts estimate that this will happen to about 80% of the adult population. And when it does happen, the first thing we are inclined to do is lie down and take a painkiller. But this may not be the most efficacious treatment. To treat the pain we must first know what is its cause. And we shouldn’t always jump to conclusions. Sure, that refrigerator was a bit heavy to move all by yourself. And all that bending out in the garden may not have been the best choice. But, aside from strain and injury, there are other possibilities. And painkillers may not be the only drugs called for.

Certain types of back pain may originate not with injury, but with infection. Some of the infections may seem to be obvious causes of back pain. Meningitis, an inflammation of the sheath around the spinal cord is one. Most people will associate this condition with a still and painful neck, but the pain can, and does, on occasion, spread to other parts of the spinal cord. Then there is also Endocarditis, which, simply put, is an inflammation of the heart, particularly the inner lining, and it can also cause back pain. Tuberculosis, which is most often associated with the lungs, can, in fact, occur in many other parts of the body, and, depending on its location, can cause severe back pain. All of these conditions can, and are, treated with antibiotics. If we cure the disease, we alleviate the back pain.

Another cause of some back pain may be the existence of parasites, those tiny, little unwanted guests in our body. The thought of such repugnant squatters in our digestive system may make our skin crawl, but they can possibly do more than that, such as causing back pain. And these pesky little buggers may be treated with antibiotics or antimicrobials. But intestinal parasites are not the only thing in our gastrointestinal system that can cause pain in our lower back. Constipation can also do so. And, depending on the cause of the constipation, antibiotics may be of use in treating our pain. Diverticulitis, an inflammation or infection of the small pouches in the intestine, may cause constipation. Gastrointestinal infections are caused by the rampant growth of deleterious bacteria in our intestinal tract. Such harmful bacteria may escape the confines of our bowels and spread to nearby organs such as the pancreas or the gallbladder. Such an infection can then cause intense discomfort in the back. Once an infection becomes established in these organs, it is unlikely to spontaneously cure itself. Antibiotics are called for to effect a cure and relieve our pain.

Studies suggest that approximately 80% of all adults will experience back pain at some point in their life. And, even if we can trace the origin of our pain to injury or strain, it seems that bacterial infection, and the subsequent necessity of antibiotic treatment, cannot be overlooked. Everyone has heard the expression “slipped disc”. The spinal column consists of a series of bones, called vertebrae, separated by cushioning discs. These discs consist of a form outer ring surrounding a softer inner core. Occasionally, a disc may slip out of its usual position due to strain or injury. For instance, you may have been correct in assuming that the refrigerator was too big to move by yourself. Or maybe you pulled just one too many weeds in the garden. In a lot of cases. Once the disc has slipped, or herniated, the resulting tear will heal itself with very little, or even no, pain. Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and chronic back pain may be the result. If the pain has become severe and debilitating, and physical therapy does not seem to be working, the next alternative is surgery. But even surgery may not cure the pain. Studies have shown that 40% of all cases of chronic back pain may be caused by bacteria. Once a disc has become herniated, it opens up the spinal column to infection. The opening created allows blood vessels to infiltrate the injured area. While this may, indeed, aid in the healing process by bringing needed nutrients and healing materials to the site, it can also open up the location to unwanted hitchhikers such as bacteria being transported from other parts of the body. And once this bacteria enters the spinal column it can cause deterioration of the bone structure, and a subsequent increase in pain and disability.

So, with or without surgery, whether or not the body has been physically opened up, the spine has been compromised.  A study at the University of Southern Denmark has concluded that 40% of patients suffering from a herniated disc have a spine that has been compromised by the presence of bacteria. And of this number, 80% of the infections are perpetrated by propionibacterium acnes, a bacteria commonly found on the skin and in the mouth and intestines, thus indicating a link between back pain and the gastrointestinal system. So, while other bacteria may, in fact, be responsible occasionally for damage to the bones of the spinal column, the overwhelming presence of a bacterium found in the bowels leads to the conclusion that, perhaps due to their proximity to the lower back, the intestines may be the primary source for infection of the spinal column.

But, while experts are quick to point out the necessity of treating such a condition with appropriate antibiotics, they are just as quick to emphasize that we must proceed with caution, and be careful not to over treat the condition. Doctors must first ascertain that the specific back pain to be treated is caused by bacteria, and be unnecessarily quick to simply fire an antibiotic scattershot at a merely suspected condition. And we must be careful to prescribe only the amount needed, for the duration needed, as the indiscriminate use of antibiotics may eventually lead to the rise of resistant superbugs. And nobody wants a Godzilla-like microbe stalking the planet.

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I’m Nick Wilkinson. I writer and radio personality who lives in Phoenix, Arizona.

With over 14 years of experience in the Behavioral Health Field, I’ve been working in close contact with kids from all walks of life.

Specializing in teenagers and young adults, I’ve been a career long supporter of “verbal de-escalation” and non-violent crisis intervention. I believe that what you say, and how you say it, are the keys to successful communication. I currently write about men's health topics, parenting and child abuse topics, and other social issues. You can visit my blog at

Tagged on: antibiotics    antimicrobials    back pain    constipation    disc    Gastrointestinal System    infection    Inflammation    Meningitis    painkiller    parasites    slipped disc    spinal column    spinal cord    superbugs    Tuberculosis    vertebrae
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