Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on January 24, 2021
Back Pain

Back Pain

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If you’re like most people, it’ll affect you at least once in your lifetime. It’s one of the most common reasons people miss work, because it can make it really hard to move around. Many things can cause it, and most can be helped by things you can do at home.

Muscle Spasm

Muscle Spasm

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If you hurt the muscles or tissues around your spine, your muscles may try to protect that area by going into spasm. That means they flex and stay that way. It will hurt until the muscle relaxes. Spasms in your back also can be caused by slipped disks or injuries to the tissues in your spine.

Muscle Spasm Treatment

Muscle Spasm Treatment

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It depends on the cause, as well as your age and overall health, but rest and over-the-counter pain relievers usually work for this. Some of these are creams you put directly where it hurts. If those don’t do the trick, your doctor may give you muscle relaxants. If the spasm is caused by a more serious issue, like a problem with a disk in your back, they may recommend surgery.

Kidney Stones

Kidney Stones

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These are tiny, hard stones made from crystals that form in your kidneys. When they get stuck inside the tubes you pee through, they can cause severe pain in your lower back, lower belly, and sides.

Kidney Stones Treatment

Kidney Stones Treatment

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Sometimes you can “pass” small stones by simply drinking lots of water. This can hurt, though, so you'll probably need pain relievers. Your doctor also can give you medication to relax your muscles to help the stone pass. In severe cases, you may need a procedure to break up the stones or surgery.

Herniated Disk

Herniated Disk

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There are soft cushions, or disks, that separate your vertebrae (the small bones that make up your spine). They’re kind of like little jelly-filled doughnuts that sit between each bone. Sometimes they crack and the “jelly” oozes out. If it pushes on your spinal cord or nerves, it can cause back pain that can spread to your legs or arms.

Herniated Disk Treatment

Herniated Disk Treatment

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If you have severe pain, you may need a day or two of bed rest and anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen, or aspirin) to help with swelling. Your doctor also may recommend physical therapy to strengthen and stretch your lower back and abdominal muscles. If the pain lasts for months, your doctor may suggest surgery.

Arthritis

Arthritis

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Arthritis is inflammation, stiffness, and pain in your joints. There is a group of “spinal arthritis” conditions (called spondyloarthropathies) that affect your lower back. It carries more of your body's weight.

Arthritis Treatment

Arthritis Treatment

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In most cases, rest and over-the-counter drugs are all you need. These include anti-inflammatory medications and analgesics, which help with pain. If that’s not enough, your doctor may give you prescription medication, like steroids, to ease the pain and inflammation. Be sure to tell them what other drugs you take before you start any new medication.

Spinal Stenosis

Spinal Stenosis

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When the spaces in your spinal column narrow, it can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that run from your spine to your arms and legs. That can cause numbness and make it hard for you to move around. Arthritis, tumors, and certain inherited diseases can cause it, and it’s more common after age 50.

Spinal Stenosis Treatment

Spinal Stenosis Treatment

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Most people need prescription-strength medications to help with pain, along with rest and physical therapy. If your pain is severe or you can’t move around well, your doctor may suggest surgery to relieve the pressure on your spine.

Spinal Infection

Spinal Infection

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This is a serious (but rare) condition that happens when bacteria, a virus, or fungus infects the fluid around your spine or the bones or soft tissues that make up your spinal column. It usually happens after spinal surgery or an accident or injury to your spine.

Spinal Infection Treatment

Spinal Infection Treatment

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Your doctor will pump medicine directly into your bloodstream to fight the bacteria, virus, or fungus. You might need to stay at the hospital for a while, and you probably won’t be allowed to move around very much. If the medication doesn’t work, you may need surgery. 

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis

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This happens when one of the bones in your spine (vertebrae) slips out of place and onto the one below it. When the bone presses on a nerve, it hurts. This usually happens in your lower back.

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

Spondylolisthesis Treatment

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Rest, exercise, and medication -- mostly over-the-counter drugs that help with pain and inflammation -- are the most common treatments for this. Your doctor also may suggest physical therapy, or possibly surgery in more severe cases.

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SOURCES:

American Association of Neurological Surgeons: “Spinal Infections.”

American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Herniated Disk in the Lower Back.”

Arthritis Foundation: “Arthritis and Diseases That Affect the Back.”

Cleveland Clinic: “Spondylolisthesis.”

Mayo Clinic: “Spinal Stenosis,” “Kidney Stones,” “Back Pain.”

National Institutes of Health: “Questions and Answers About Spinal Stenosis.”

Spine Health: “What Is Your Back Muscle Spasm Telling You?” “Causes of Back Spasm.”