There can be many causes of acute lower back pain, but the majority of the time it is non-specific. Lower back pain can range from mild discomfort to disabling pain and often is accompanied by sciatica, lower back pain that travels down the sciatic nerve in the back of the leg, causing leg pain.
Back pain symptoms can include:
- Muscle ache or spasm
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain that radiates down your leg (known as sciatica)
- Limited flexibility or range of motion of the back
Acute back pain can last up to 6 weeks. Chronic back pain is less common, usually lasts longer than three months, and requires medical treatment.
Often back pain can also be episodic, resolving and returning over a period of time.
Most back pain can be treated with over the counter pain medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen (Motrin® or Advil®) if there are no allergies, or with a heating pad.
With acute pain, try to return to normal movement of the back as tolerated, but also rest and avoid excessive movements or activities that worsen the pain.
If the backache continues, your doctor may prescribe muscle relaxants. Physical therapy, injections, or surgery might be recommended if the pain does not reduce over a certain period of time.
If there is another condition causing your backache, your doctor may recommend one of the following tests:
- CT scan
- Blood test
- Bone scan
- Nerve studies
Otherwise early use of imaging for low back pain without certain associated symptoms is not correlated with an improved outcome.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If the pain does not subside in two weeks, does not improve with rest, or you experience weakness and numbness in your legs, you should seek medical attention.
Causes and Prevention
Health conditions such as nerve and muscular problems, degenerative disc disease, and arthritis can lead to back pain. You can also experience back pain as a result of everyday activities such as lifting a heavy object, falling/slipping, working out, or sedentary work requiring prolonged sitting. Bad posture is also a common cause of back pain. Other causes include:
- Disk breakdown
- Tense muscles
- Ruptured disks or vertebral fractures
- Muscle strain or ligament sprain
- Arthritis and other age-related changes
The best way to avoid back pain is to stay physically active, keep proper form when exercising or lifting things (e.g., lift with the legs, not the back), and maintain correct posture.
For videos on how to improve your posture while performing activities such as working out or sitting at the computer, visit our Home Exercise page.