Health & Wellness

Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Back pain is a common reason for absence from work and seeking medical treatment. It can be uncomfortable and debilitating.

What is causing this pain in my back?

It can result from injury, activity, and some medical conditions. Back pain can affect people of any age, for different reasons. As people age, the possibility of developing lower back pain increases, due Medicineto factors such as previous occupation and degenerative disc disease.

Low back pain may be related to the lumbar bone column, the discs between the vertebrae, the ligaments around the spine and discs, the spinal cord and nerves, the lumbar muscles, the abdominal and pelvic internal organs, and the skin around the lumbar area.

The pain in the upper back can be due to disorders of the aorta, tumors in the chest and inflammation of the spine.

Who experiences back pain?

Low back pain, also called low back pain, is not a disorder. It is a symptom of several different types of medical problems.

It is usually the result of a problem with one or more parts of the lower back, such as:

  • ligaments
  • muscles
  • nerves
  • The bony structures that make up the spine, called the vertebral bodies or vertebrae

It may also be due to a problem with nearby organs, such as the kidneys. According to the American Association of Neurological Surgeons, 75 to 85 percent of Americans will experience back pain in their lifetime. Of these, 50 percent will have more than one episode within a year. In 90 percent of all cases, pain improves without surgery. Talk to your doctor if you have back pain.

Back pain treatment

Many people will not need extensive treatment for back pain. Over-the-counter pain relievers are usually enough. In more severe cases, stronger treatments may be necessary, but are generally provided under the close supervision of your doctor.


Most episodes of back pain are relieved by treatment with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as:

  • ibuprofen (Motrin)
  • naproxen (Aleve)

Pain relievers or pain relievers, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), are also an option, although they do not have anti-inflammatory properties. Be careful with medicines like ibuprofen if you have kidney problems or stomach ulcers. Never take more than the recommended dose of over-the-counter medications without consulting a doctor, as even these medications can have serious side effects if taken incorrectly.

Other medication options include:

Ointments and topical ointments.

Topical products can be highly effective in reducing back pain. Many of these contain ingredients like ibuprofen and lidocaine, which work better than a placebo when it comes to pain relief.


Opioids are stronger pain medications that can be prescribed for more severe pain. These drugs, like oxycodone (OxyContin) and a combination of acetaminophen and hydrocodone (Vicodin), act on brain cells and the body to reduce pain. However, opioids should be used with caution due to the risk of addiction.

Muscle relaxants

Muscle relaxants can also be used for low back pain, especially if muscle spasms occur along with the pain. These medications act on the central nervous system to reduce pain.


Antidepressants and other medications can sometimes be used off-label to treat back pain. If your back pain is severe, your doctor may prescribe amitriptyline, a tricyclic antidepressant, because it focuses on different parts of the pain response. This antidepressant may also work best for nerve related pain.

Steroid injections

Your doctor may also recommend steroid cortisone injections for severe back pain. However, pain relief from steroid injections usually goes away around three months.


Surgery is a last resort treatment and is rarely needed for back pain. It is generally reserved for structural abnormalities that have failed to respond to conservative therapy and medication.

This includes:

  • constant and intense pain
  • nerve compression causing muscles to weaken

Spinal fusion is a surgery in which the painful vertebrae fuse into a single, more solid bone. Helps eliminate painful movement of the spine. Surgery may be performed to partially remove and replace the discs and vertebrae to relieve pain caused by degenerative bone diseases.

Alternative medicine

Alternative therapies that can help alleviate back pain include:

  • acupuncture
  • massage
  • chiropractic adjustments
  • cognitive behavior therapy
  • relaxation techniques

Be sure to speak to your doctor before undergoing any alternative or complementary treatment.

Back pain home remedies

Many home remedies can be used with traditional back pain treatments. If you have questions about this, talk to your doctor.

Heat / Ice Therapy

Ice packs can relieve discomfort and help decrease inflammation in the acute phases of back pain. Note: Do not apply ice directly to your skin. Wrap it in a thin towel or gauze to prevent damage to your skin. Warm compresses can also relieve pain when the inflammation has subsided. Consider alternating between hot and cold.


Exercises to improve posture and strengthen the muscles of the back and abdominal muscles, called the core muscles, are a treatment option that should be seriously considered.

This treatment often involves:

  • improve posture
  • using proper lifting techniques
  • core muscle strengthening
  • stretch muscles to improve flexibility

A physical therapist can teach you how to do these kinds of exercises at home.

Essential oils

Research suggests that lavender essential oil or capsaicin ointments may help decrease pain. Capsaicin is the ingredient in peppers that heat them up. These ingredients can desensitize the nerves in the impacted area and decrease the pain you feel.

Salt baths

A warm bath can do wonders for muscle pain, but while you’re soaking, give the water an extra boost for your back with Epsom salt. Your body can absorb the minerals from the salt bath and can help soothe sore muscles.

Home remedies can be very effective in reducing back pain.

Back pain causes

The most common causes of low back pain are tension and problems with the structures of the back.


Tense muscles often cause back pain. Tension commonly occurs with improper lifting of heavy objects and sudden, uncomfortable movements. Tension can also be the result of excessive activity. An example is the sensation of pain and stiffness that occurs after a few hours of gardening or playing a sport.

Structural problems

Vertebrae are the interlocking bones stacked on top of each other that make up the spine. Discs are areas of tissue that cushion the space between each vertebra. Disc injuries are a fairly common cause of back pain. Sometimes these discs can bulge, herniate, or rupture. The nerves can be compressed when this happens.

Herniated discs can be very painful. A bulging disc that presses on the nerve that travels from the back to the leg can cause sciatica or irritation of the sciatic nerve. Sciatica can be experienced on your leg as:

  • pain
  • tingle
  • numbness


Spinal osteoarthritis is also a potential cause of back pain. It is caused by damage and deterioration in the cartilage of the joints in the lower back. Over time, this condition can lead to narrowing of the spine or spinal stenosis.


Loss of bone density and thinning of the bone, called osteoporosis, can lead to small fractures of the vertebrae. These fractures can cause severe pain and are known as compression fractures.

Other causes of back pain

There are many other potential causes of back pain, but most of them are rare. Be sure to consult your doctor if you experience regular back pain that does not go away. After ruling out the most common causes of back pain, your doctor will perform tests to determine if you have a rarer cause. These may include:

  • displacement of one vertebral body over another, called degenerative spondylolisthesis
  • loss of nerve function in the lower spinal cord, called cauda equina syndrome (a medical emergency)
  • fungal or bacterial infection of the spine, such as Staphylococcus, E. coli, or tuberculosis
  • cancer or non-malignant tumor of the spine
  • kidney infection or kidney stones

Back pain symptoms

Back pain can have many symptoms, including:

  • a dull aching sensation in the lower back
  • stabbing or shooting pain that can radiate from the leg to the foot
  • inability to stand up straight without pain
  • Decreased range of motion and decreased ability to flex your back.

Back pain symptoms, whether due to stress or misuse, are usually short-lived, but can last for days or weeks. Back pain is chronic when symptoms have been present for more than three months.

Back pain symptoms that may indicate a serious problem

Consult your doctor if back pain does not improve within two weeks of development. There are times when back pain can be a symptom of a serious medical problem. Symptoms that may indicate a more serious medical problem are:

  • loss of bowel or bladder control
  • numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both legs
  • appearance after trauma, such as a fall or blow to the back
  • constant, severe pain that worsens at night
  • presence of unexplained weight loss
  • pain associated with a throbbing sensation in the abdomen
  • presence of fever

Tell your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.

Back pain diagnosis

A physical exam is usually all that is needed to diagnose back pain. During the physical exam, your doctor may evaluate your:

  • ability to stand and walk
  • spinal range of motion
  • reflexes
  • leg strength
  • ability to detect sensations in your legs

If a serious condition is suspected, your doctor may order other tests, including:

  • Blood and urine tests to verify underlying conditions
  • X-rays of the spine to show alignment of the bones and look for breaks
  • computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate your discs, muscles, ligaments, nerves, and blood vessels
  • bone scan to look for abnormalities in bone tissue
  • electromyography (EMG) to assess nerve conduction

How to prevent back pain

These tips can help ease back pain when it occurs. They can also help you prevent back pain in the first place.

Carry less

Heavy briefcases, laptop bags, suitcases, and wallets can add unnecessary strain and strain to your neck and spine. Try to cut down on what you need to carry, and use bags that distribute weight more evenly, like a backpack. If you can, use a bag with wheels to avoid the weight of your back completely.

Work your core

The muscles in and around your abdomen and back help you stay upright and carry you through your physical activities. Strengthening them can also reduce the chances of back pain, tension, or damage. Connect strength training workouts with a central focus in your regular exercise routine at least twice a week.

Improve your posture

Poor posture can put unnecessary pressure and strain on the spine. Over time, this can lead to pain and damage. Regularly remember to back off rounded shoulders and sit up straight in your chair.

Change shoes

High heels are likely to cause back damage if you wear them frequently. Choose comfortable low-heeled shoes when you can. An inch is a suggestion of maximum heel height.

Stretch often

Doing the same thing every day can leave your muscles fatigued and more prone to tension. Stretch regularly to help improve circulation in those muscles and reduce the risk of back pain and damage.

Risk factors for back pain

According to the Mayo Clinic, you are at an increased risk of back pain if:

  • work in a sedentary environment
  • don’t exercise
  • participate in high impact activities without stretching or warming up first
  • they are older
  • have obesity
  • you are a smoker
  • have been diagnosed with a specific condition such as arthritis

Your emotional health also has an effect on your risk of back pain. You may be at increased risk for back pain if you have a stressful job or you have depression and anxiety.

Back pain and pregnancy

Back pain during each trimester of your pregnancy is not uncommon: various causes may be to blame. However, you should be sure to talk to your doctor about what you are experiencing, in case pain is part of a bigger problem. Here are some reasons why you may experience back pain during pregnancy:

Shifting center of gravity

As your baby grows, the center of your body’s “gravity” moves outward. Your spine and posterior arch to compensate for the change in balance. This places additional stress on the lower lumbar spine.

Weight gain

Weight gain can be a healthy part of pregnancy, but even the most likely gain during those 9 months can put more stress on your back and core muscles.


As your body prepares to give birth, it releases hormones that loosen the ligaments that stabilize the pelvis and lumbar spine. These same hormones can cause the bones in the spine to move, which can lead to discomfort and pain.

Exercises to relieve your back pain

Gentle stretching and simple exercises can help ease back pain and prevent future problems. Here are two exercises you can try. These movements do not require special equipment and can be performed anywhere you can access an open floor area. A yoga mat is recommended but not necessary.


  1. Lie on the floor with your feet flat on the floor, hip width apart.
  2. With your hands at your sides, press your feet to the floor as you slowly lift your buttocks off the floor until your body is in a straight line. Keep your shoulders on the ground.
  3. Below. Rest 1 minute.
  4. Repeat 15 times.
  5. Perform 3 series.
  6. Lie face down. Stretch your arms above your head and stretch your legs straight behind you.
  7. Slowly lift your hands and feet off the ground. Start about 6 inches off the ground and go higher when you’re comfortable.
  8. Press the navel to lift your legs and arms off the floor. Stop when you feel your lower back contract. To avoid neck strain, keep your head down, facing the ground.
  9. Keep your posture stretched for 2-3 seconds.
  10. Go back to neutral and relax your muscles.
  11. Repeat this stretch 10 to 12 times.

Yoga for back pain

Yoga can be considered as a way to reduce stress, but it can also be an excellent way to relieve muscle pain. Certain yoga poses can also help stretch and strengthen core and back muscles. This can relieve pain and prevent future back problems. Practice these yoga poses for a few minutes every day. They are great for beginners. You can add new ones for a more intense stretch later.


  1. Get down on the floor and get on your hands and knees.
  2. Align your body so that your hands are directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Evenly balance your weight on all fours.
  3. Slowly inhale the air and look at the wall in front of you. Let your stomach drop onto the mat.
  4. Slowly breathe out, tuck your chin into your chest, draw your navel to the back of your spine, and arch your back.
  5. Convert steps 3 and 4 into one continuous motion and repeat for at least 1 minute.
  6. Lie face down. Stretch your legs straight behind you. Rest your hands, palms down, next to your shoulders.
  7. Engage the core, lower back, and buttock muscles to slowly lift your upper torso away from the ground. Use your arms only for support.
  8. Draw on the lower back and push the navel to the floor to maintain the stretch.
  9. Stay on this stretch for 2-3 minutes.
  10. Relax and go back to the floor.

Sphinx pose

As your muscles get stronger, you can hold this pose longer. Work for about 5 minutes.

UTI back pain

A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in the parts of your body that are responsible for transporting urine. This could be the kidneys, ureters, urethra, or bladder. Urinary tract infection is most often caused by microbes or bacteria that enter the urinary tract and multiply. If you have a urinary infection, you may experience some level of lower back pain or lower back discomfort. Additionally, you may experience:

  • frequent urination
  • burning while urinating
  • urine with blood
  • cloudy urine
  • urine with a strong odor
  • feeling an urgent need to urinate
  • producing little urine despite feeling intense pressure

UTIs can be treated with antibiotics. Once treatment begins, symptoms, including back pain, should resolve quickly.

Prospects for back pain

Back pain is a common disease, and the older you get, the more likely you are to experience it. In fact, most Americans will deal with back pain at some point in their lives. For a small percentage, back pain can become chronic. With treatment, most episodes of back pain will resolve on their own. Occasionally, you will need your doctor’s help in the form of prescription drugs or injections. Surgery can be an option in very rare cases.

The good news for people who have experienced back pain and want to avoid another fight is that they can take steps to prevent back pain. Daily stretching, yoga, and strength training can help strengthen and strengthen your back and core muscles.

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