Back pain is very common and normally improves within a few weeks or months.
Pain in the lower back (lumbago) is particularly common, although it can be felt anywhere along the spine – from the neck down to the hips.
Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work and a leading cause of disability worldwide. Most people have back pain at least once.
Typically, younger individuals (30 to 60 year olds) are more likely to experience back pain from a lower back muscle strain or from within the disc space itself - such as a lumbar disc herniation or lumbar degenerative disc disease.
Signs and symptoms of back pain may include:
- Muscle ache
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain that radiates down your leg
- Limited flexibility or range of motion of the back
Most back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, usually within two weeks. If not, see your doctor.
In rare cases, back pain can signal a serious medical problem. Seek immediate care if your back pain:
Causes new bowel or bladder problems
Is accompanied by fever
Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of problems with any parts of the complex, interconnected network of spinal muscles, nerves, bones, discs or tendons in the lumbar spine. Typical sources of low back pain include:
- The large nerve roots in the low back that go to the legs may be irritated
- The smaller nerves that supply the low back may be irritated
- The large paired lower back muscles (erector spinae) may be strained
- The bones, ligaments or joints may be damaged
- An intervertebral disc may be degenerating
Back pain can come on suddenly and last less than six weeks (acute), which may be caused by a fall or heavy lifting. Back pain that lasts more than three months (chronic) is less common than acute pain.
Back pain often develops without a specific cause that your doctor can identify with a test or imaging study. Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:
Muscle or ligament strain. Repeated heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement may strain back muscles and spinal ligaments. If you're in poor physical condition, constant strain on your back may cause painful muscle spasms.
Bulging or ruptured disks. Disks act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. The soft material inside a disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve. However, you can have a bulging or ruptured disk without back pain. Disk disease is often found incidentally when you undergo spine X-rays for some other reason.
Arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. In some cases arthritis in the spine can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition called spinal stenosis.
Skeletal irregularities. Back pain can occur if your spine curves abnormally. Scoliosis, a condition in which your spine curves to the side, also may lead to back pain, but generally only if the scoliosis is severe.