Pain from an injury may be sudden and severe. Bruising and swelling may develop soon after the injury. Pain from an acute injury usually does not last longer than 6 weeks. Acute injuries include:
- An injury to the ligaments or muscles in the back, such as a sprain or a strain.
- A fracture or dislocation of the spine. This can cause a spinal cord injury that may lead to permanent paralysis. It is important to immobilize and transport the injured person correctly to reduce the risk of permanent paralysis.
- A torn or ruptured disc. If the tear is large enough, the jellylike material inside the disc may leak out (herniate) and press against a nerve. See a picture of a herniated disc.
- An injury that causes the compression of nerves in the lower back (cauda equina syndrome).
You may not remember a specific injury, especially if your symptoms began gradually or during everyday activities. These injuries occur most often from improper movement or posture while lifting, standing, walking, or sitting, or even while sleeping. Symptoms can include pain, muscle spasms, and stiffness. The pain often goes away within 4 weeks without any treatment.
Back pain or problems may not be related to an injury.
- Conditions that weaken the spine, such as ankylosing spondylitis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, spinal stenosis, or Paget's disease, can cause back pain. These conditions are most common in older adults. In rare cases, tumors or infections can develop in or around the spine.
- Some medical conditions can cause pain to spread to the back from other parts of the body (referred pain). Many health problems that can cause back pain have nothing to do with the bones, joints, muscles, or ligaments of the back.
- Spinal deformities such as scoliosis, kyphosis (Scheuermann's disease), and spondylolisthesis can cause back pain.
- Chronic pain syndrome caused by a previous injury or degenerative disease with aging can cause back pain.
Most back pain will get better and go away by itself in 1 to 4 weeks. Home treatment will often help relieve back pain that is caused by minor injuries. It is usually a good idea to continue your regular activities while your back is healing. Avoid heavy lifting and activities that seem to make your back problems worse.
Other treatments for a back problem or injury may include first aid measures, physical therapy, manipulative therapy (such as chiropractic), medicine, and, in some cases, surgery. Treatment depends on:
- The location, type, and severity of the injury.
- Your age, health condition, and activities (such as work, sports, or hobbies).
Check your symptoms to decide if and when you should see a doctor.