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Low Back Pain - Symptoms

Symptoms of low back pain depend on the cause.

Back sprain or strain

Symptoms typically include:

  • Muscle spasms, cramping, and stiffness.
  • Pain in the back and sometimes in the buttock. It may come on quickly or gradually. It most often occurs in episodes. Certain movements make it worse, and doing light activities such as walking makes it feel better. The worst pain usually lasts 48 to 72 hours and may be followed by days or weeks of less severe pain.

Nerve-root pressure

Symptoms typically include:

  • Leg pain. If pain extends below the knee, it is more likely to be due to pressure on a nerve than to a muscle problem. Most commonly, it's a pain that starts in the buttock and travels down the back of the leg as far as the ankle or foot. This pain pattern is known as sciatica (say "sy-AT-ih-kuh"). For more information, see the topic Sciatica.
  • Nerve-related problems, such as tingling, numbness, or weakness in one leg or in the foot, lower leg, or both legs. Tingling may begin in the buttock and extend to the ankle or foot. Weakness or numbness in both legs, or loss of bladder and/or bowel control, are symptoms of cauda equina syndrome, which requires immediate medical attention.

Arthritis of the spine

Osteoarthritis of the spine usually causes pain that:

  • Is worse in the back and hip region.
  • Starts gradually, gets worse over time, and lasts longer than 3 to 6 months.
  • Is generally worse in the morning or after prolonged periods of inactivity. Arthritis pain gets better when you move around.

Other conditions

Symptoms of diseases that affect the spine depend on the disease. They may include:

  • Pain that is worse in the affected part of the spine (for instance, if there is a compression fracture, tumor, or infection).
  • Pain that starts gradually, is constant, and may be sharp or a dull ache. Bed rest doesn't help and may make it worse (for example, tumors on the spine often cause night pain). The pain lasts longer than 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Fever.
  • Sensitivity of the spine to touch and pressure.
  • Pain that wakes you up from sleep.
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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: November 19, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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