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Back Pain Health Center

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Understanding Back Pain -- Symptoms

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What Are the Symptoms of Back Pain?

Most people have experienced back pain sometime in their lives. The causes of back pain are numerous; some are self-inflicted due to a lifetime of bad habits. Other back pain causes include accidents, muscle strains, and sports injuries. Although the causes may be different, most often they share the same symptoms.

Symptoms of back pain can include:

Understanding Back Pain

  • Persistent aching or stiffness anywhere along your spine, from the base of the neck to the tail bone
  • Sharp, localized pain in the neck, upper back, or lower back -- especially after lifting heavy objects or engaging in other strenuous activity; (pain in the upper back can also be a sign of a heart attack or other life-threatening conditions.)
  • Chronic ache in the middle or lower back, especially after sitting or standing for extended periods
  • Back pain that radiates from the low back to the buttock, down the back of the thigh, and into the calf and toes
  • Inability to stand straight without having pain or muscle spasms in the lower back


Call Your Doctor About Back Pain If:

  • You feel numbness, tingling, or weakness in your groin, arms or legs; this may signal damage to the spinal cord. Seek immediate medical help.
  • The pain in your back extends downward along the back of the leg; you may be suffering from sciatica.
  • The pain increases when you cough or bend forward at the waist; this can be the sign of a herniated disc.
  • The pain is accompanied by fever, burning during urination, or frequent and/or urgent urination. You may have an infection.
  • You begin to have problems controlling your bowels or bladder; seek immediate medical help.

Other "red flags" that could point to a serious back pain problem include:

  • A history of cancer
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • You have been on steroids or medication that weakens your immune system
  • A history of trauma
  • Pain that is getting worse and does not get better after you rest
  • Pain that has lasted more than a month
  • Nighttime pain
  • Unresponsive to earlier back pain therapies
  • A history of IV drug use


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on March 10, 2015
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