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How Having a ‘Bad Back’ Can Lead to ED


A marvel of engineering, the human body is a complex collection of interconnected systems that all must be working at optimal levels to ensure whole body health. When one system falters or fails, the effects reverberate throughout the body, sometimes resulting in health problems that would seem to have little connection to the site of the system failure.

This man could find that his health problems extend well beyond his nagging back pain. 

Nerves and blood vessels connect these diverse body systems, and it is through the complex communications system they comprise that problems in one part of the body can sometimes cause breakdowns elsewhere.

One of the most widely reported medical problems in the United States is back pain, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. And as unlikely a connection as it might seem at first glance, back pain and erectile dysfunction are closely associated with one another.

The Spinal Column

Humans, just as all vertebrates, possess a vertebral column, also known as a backbone, spinal column, or spine, that is the primary skeletal support for the rest of the body. The spinal column also serves as protection for the spinal cord, a tubular bundle of nervous tissue and support cells that together with the brain make up the central nervous system.

The spinal column stretches from the brain down to the tailbone and is made up of 33 interlocking bones, each known as a vertebra. Between each of these bones is a rubbery cushion, or spinal disc, which serves as a sort of shock absorber between each vertebra. Keeping the space between these vertebrae open is important because branching off from the spinal cord at regular intervals are nerves and blood vessels.

If a spinal disc ruptures or is otherwise damaged, the space between the vertebrae it separates can be sharply reduced, causing the bony vertabrae to impinge on both nerves and blood vessels that may emanate from that vertebral intersection. Those pinched nerves may cause pain at the site of impingement or anywhere along the route of that nerve. And pinched blood vessels obviously can result in compromised vascular function, particularly to the areas served by the impinged blood vessels.

Makeup of Spinal Discs

The spinal discs, or intervertebral discs, that separate individual vertebrae in the spinal column consist of a fibrous cartilage exterior that contains and protects a gel-like substance at the center of the disc. The cartilaginous outer layer of the disc is known as the anulus fibrosus. The gel-like core of the disc is known scientifically as the nucleus polposus.

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The gel-like substance within the nucleus polposus helps to distribute pressure evenly across the disc. However, any damage that compromises the integrity of the nucleus polposus can cause a narrowing of the intervertebral space and result in pinched nerves and blood vessels.

Herniated or Ruptured Disc

One of the most common forms of intervertebral disc damage is a herniated disc, also known as a ruptured or slipped disc. This can be caused by a traumatic injury or can result from the gradual degeneration that accompanies the aging process. In such a case, a portion of the gel-like substance that makes up the disc’s nucleus polposus actually begins to protrude from the external covering of the disc.

Depending on the degree of herniation, the intervertebral space protected by that disc is narrowed. That narrowing can cause a pinched nerve that may or may not result in pain at one or multiple points along the route of that nerve. Even in the absence of pain, the impinged nerve has been compromised and is no longer able to communicate at optimal levels.


This graphic illustrates the various types of damage that intervertebral discs can sustain. 

Degenerative Disc Disease

Unlike the sudden damage to a disc that can be sustained during a traumatic injury, degenerative disc disease (DDD) refers to the gradual damage inflicted on a disc by the wear and tear of many years. It refers specifically to cases in which this normal wear and tear begins to cause back pain that impedes normal function.

While almost everyone suffers from some disc damage over the years, not everyone suffers from DDD, which can be disabling depending on the extent of damage sustained. As previously noted, the primary symptom of DDD is back pain. According to Cedars-Sinai.org, the most common causes of DDD are a drying out of the disc; damage sustained during daily activities and sports; and injuries that trigger inflammation and instability.

Link Between ED and Back Pain

In and of itself, back pain restricts movement and can make it difficult to engage in sexual activity. However, the nerves and blood vessels that are pinched because of intervertebral disc damage can also cause erection problems. Optimal erectile function depends on unimpeded blood flow to the penis, as well as robust nerve function to carry signals from the brain to the male genitalia.

When either or both vascular and nervous function are compromised, it can lead to increasing difficulty in getting and keeping an erection suitable for intercourse. And this, of course, is the definition of erectile dysfunction.

Laser Decompression of Disc

For men suffering from back pain and ED caused by a herniated disc, there is hope for relief from both problems. In a study published in the February 1999 issue of the “Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine & Surgery,” D.S. Choy of New York’s Laser Spine Institute describes the effects of laser decompression on patients suffering from both back pain and ED.

Noting that herniated discs are often overlooked as a cause of ED, Choy documents the cases of two patients who were treated with percutaneous (outside the skin) laser disc compression. Both patients experienced immediate pain relief and an early return to normal erectile function.

Disc-Related ED Without Pain

In a more recent study, a team of Turkish researchers looked at four cases in which herniation of the disc between the bottom vertebra of the lumbar spine and the top vertebra of the sacrum was causing sexual dysfunction. Two patients were men and two were women. None of them was experiencing low back pain, as might be expected, but all were suffering from sexual dysfunction — erectile dysfunction in the men — and sphincter dysfunction. The research team’s findings were published in the October-December 2014 issue of the “Journal of Craniovertebral Junction & Spine.”

The findings of the Turkish research team indicate that even in the absence of telltale back pain, damaged spinal discs can lead to sexual dysfunction and should be investigated as a possible cause of ED when nothing else is apparent.

Could Viagra Help?

As you can see, damage to spinal discs can result in erectile dysfunction. While the ideal solution to such problems lies in the repair, where possible, of the cause of the impotence, Viagra and the other ED drugs known as PDE5 inhibitors can often help men to regain temporary erectile function.

Available only by prescription in the United States, these drugs can be purchased at the local pharmacy or ordered from a reputable online facilitator such as AccessRx.com. To learn more about what AccessRx has to offer, visit its Erectile Dysfunction page.

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About Don Amerman

Don Amerman has spent more than three decades in the business of writing and editing. During the last 15 years, his focus has been on freelance writing. For almost all of his writing, He has done all of his own research, both online and off, including telephone and face-to-face interviews where possible. Don Amerman on Google+