What is Back Pain?

Low back pain can affect anywhere below the ribs and above the legs.  The lower back is the connection between the upper and lower body, and it bears most of the body's weight.  Because of these roles, it is easily injured when you lift, reach, or twist.


Almost everyone has low back pain at one time or another.  The good news is that most low back pain will go away in a few weeks with some basic self-care.  But if your pain is severe or last more than a couple of weeks, see your doctor.



What causes low back pain?

Low back pain is often caused by overuse, strain, or injury.  For instance, people often hurt their backs playing sports or working in the yard, being jolted in a car accident, or lifting something to heavy.


Aging plays a part too.  Your bones and muscles tend to lose strenght as you age, which increases your risk of injury.  The spongy disks between the bones of the spine (vertebrae) may suffer from wear and tear and no longer provide enough cushion between the bones.  A disc that bulges or breaks open (herniated disc) can press on nerves, causing back pain.


In some people, low back pain is the result of arthritis, broken vertabrae (compression fractures) caused by bone loss (osteoporosis), illness, or a spine problem you were born with.


Often doctors don't really know what causes low back pain.  But it is more likely to become long-lasting (chronic) if you are under stress or depressed.


What are the symptoms?

Depending on the cause, low back pain can cause a range of symptoms.  It may:

Be dull, burning, or sharp.

  • Be felt at a single point or over a broad area.
  • Come on gradually or suddenly.
  • Occur with muscle spasms or stiffness.
  • Cause leg symptoms, such as pain, numbnes, or tingling, often extending below the knee.  These symptoms can occur on their own or along with low back pain.  Leg symptoms are often caused by lower spine problems that place pressure on a nerve that leads to the leg.

A rare but serious problem called cauda equina syndrome occur if the nerves at the end of the spinal cord are squeezed.  Seek emergency treatment if you have weakness or numbness in both legs, or loss of bladder or bowel control.


Doctors say back pain is:

  • Acute if a spell (or episode) of pain lasts les than 3 months.  Most back pain is acute and goes away with 4 to 6 weeks of home treatment.
  • Recurrent if acute symptoms come back.  Most people have at least one episode of recurrent low back pain.
  • Chronic if your back bothers you most of the time for longer than 3 months.


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