Is this topic for you?
This topic provides a
general overview of low back pain. If you have been diagnosed with a herniated
disc or spinal stenosis, see the topic
Herniated Disc or
Lumbar Spinal Stenosis.
What is low back pain?
Low back pain can happen anywhere below the ribs and above the legs. It is possible to hurt your back when
you lift, reach, or twist. In fact, almost everyone has low back pain at
one time or another.
What causes low back pain?
Causes of low back pain include:
don't really know what causes low back pain.
What are the symptoms?
Depending on the cause, low
back pain can cause a range of symptoms. The pain may be dull or sharp. It may be in one small area or over a broad area. You may have muscle spasms.
Low back pain can also cause leg symptoms, such as pain, numbness, or tingling, often extending below
A rare but serious problem called
cauda equina syndrome can 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 you lose bladder or bowel control.
Most low back pain is short-term (acute) and will go away in a few weeks. It is more likely to become long-lasting (chronic) if you are depressed or under stress.
How is low back pain diagnosed?
Your doctor will
ask questions about your past health, symptoms, and activities. He or she will also do a physical exam. Your answers and the exam
can help rule out a serious cause for the pain. In most cases,
doctors are able to recommend treatment after the first exam.
Tests such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs usually don't help.
But if you have a back pain problem that has lasted longer than 6 weeks, or if your doctor thinks you may have more than muscle pain, it might be time for one of these tests.
How is it treated?
Most low back pain will improve
with basic first aid, which includes continuing to do light activity such as walking, and taking over-the-counter pain medicine as needed.
Walking is the simplest and maybe the best exercise for the lower back. It gets your blood moving and helps your muscles stay strong.
Your doctor or physical therapist can recommend more specific exercises to help your back muscles get stronger. These may include a series of
simple exercises called
core stabilization. Strengthening
the muscles in your trunk can improve your posture, keep your body in better balance, and
lower your chance of injury.