Back Pain

Updated 01 March 2017

What causes unbearable back pain?

Unbearable back pain is most probably caused by a broken vertebra, a tumour, a bacterial or tubercular infection or arthritis.


What should you do about back pain? And if you need an op, what are the available procedures? We've put together a guide to help you determine what could work for you

You have unbearable back pain

There’s a 70% chance you’ll need surgery. Get to a doctor quickly if you notice any of the symptoms listed below. A quick reaction could save your life and prevent paralysis.

Red flag

The following symptoms indicate dangerous back pain that must not be ignored:

  • If you’re under 20 or over 65 and suddenly experience severe back pain, it could be a tumour or another serious cause. Acute back pain in teenagers or the elderly can’t generally be ascribed to the usual causes.
  • Pain in the upper back. Lower back pain is common but it’s unusual in the upper back or chest.
  • Weakness in the legs. If you suddenly can’t walk, stand up straight or climb stairs.
  • Back pain accompanied by illness (fever, weight loss).
  • Back pain that’s worse at night.
  • Deformation of the spine, especially a hunched back (kyphosis). The doctor will ask the patient to bend forwards and will look at the back from the side to determine whether this is the cause.

The operation will probably be either the injection of bone cement into the damaged vertebra, or a spinal fusion.

PROCEDUREInjection of BONE CEMENT (vertebro and kyphoplasty)

Bone cement is injected into broken or damaged vertebrae. The hardened cement seals the breaks, relieves pain and separates collapsed vertebrae. It's usually performed on older people with osteoporosis fractures.

DURATIONLess than 1 hour
TOTAL COSTR25 000 - R50 000


Permanently connecting the vertebrae above and below a damaged disc by means of screws and a bone transplant.

DURATION3-4 hours
TOTAL COSTR80 000-R100 000

Injection of bone cement

Spinal fusion

(This is an edited version of a story that originally appeared in YOU Pulse / Huisgenoot-POLS magazine, Autumn 2008. Buy the latest copy, on newsstands now, for more fascinating stories from the world of health and wellness.)

Read more:

Ouch, my back aches


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Backache expert

Susan qualified as a Physiotherapist in 1990, and completed her master’s degree in Physiotherapy in 2013 at the University of Pretoria. She has a special interest in human biomechanics, as well as the interaction between domestic and work-related ergonomics.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules