Multiple sclerosis is known for causing pain, but can it cause excruciating or severe pain – in one’s back?

If back pain isn’t the No. 1 non-fatal health problem, then it certainly comes in as the No. 2.

Common Causes of Back Pain

The most common cause is a combination of poor biomechanics (e.g., using one’s lower back instead of their legs to lift a heavy item from the floor) and poorly trained low back apparatus due to lack of weight-bearing exercise.

Vehicular accidents are also a leading cause.

One might also say that vertebral degeneration is an unavoidable natural part of aging that begins around 40, though very physically fit middle-agers with strong backs would beg to differ.

MS As a Cause of Back Pain

So where does multiple sclerosis fit into the arena of back pain, particularly of an excruciating or very severe nature?

“MS can cause back pain which is often related to spasticity,” says Mitzi J. Williams, MD, a board certified neurologist and MS specialist, and clinical advisor for the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation.

Spasticity is the ongoing contraction of muscle, which leads to tightness and stiffness.

“It usually does not cause excruciating back pain to the point where someone has difficulty moving,” says Dr. Williams.

“People with MS can also have back pain from other common causes such as muscle strain from an injury or degenerative disease such as a slipped disc in the spine.”

Excruciating Back Pain with MS

Dr. Williams explains that “MS symptoms can pile on top of each other, so if someone has back pain from spasticity with MS and they overdo it or strain a muscle, or have degenerative disease as well, the combination of the symptoms can result in excruciating pain.

“But the pain may not be due only to the MS component — and that with multiple sclerosis it is hard to separate out the components of pain from spasticity, degeneration, etc.

“People often have to see a neurologist and orthopedic doctor to help sort out these issues and treat the pain appropriately.”

Mitzi Williams, MD

Mitzi Joi Williams, MD, is a board certified neurologist and multiple sclerosis specialist. She is also a speaker, researcher, educator and health equity advocate.