8 Things to Know About Back Pain

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By John Munnoch on November 25, 2021
  • Young man sitting with back pain
    Get the Basics on Back Pain
    Back pain is one of the most common reasons people visit their family doctor. In the United States alone, 85 to 90% of people will have back pain during their lives. There are many causes of back pain, including mild sprains and strains to more complex conditions caused by osteoporosis, arthritis and serious injuries. If you have any type of discomfort in your upper, middle or lower back, take a moment to learn more about the elements of back pain and how to manage it.
  • Tennis player with back pain
    1. There are three main types of back pain.
    Acute back pain typically lasts less than 3 to 6 months and is often directly related to some form of tissue damage, such as a sprain or strain from a sports injury or other accident. Chronic back pain usually lasts more than 3 to 6 months and may not be directly related to tissue damage, such as pain from an old injury, health complications, or prior surgery. Neuropathic back pain occurs in the nerves and does not go away. It typically results from injury or trauma and causes hypersensitivity to pain. Depending on the injury or condition, back pain can occur in several different areas.
  • back spasm
    2. Back pain can affect different areas of the spine.
    Mild or severe back pain can occur in the cervical spine (your neck), the thoracic spine (your upper and middle back), and the lumbar spine (your lower back). While the majority of people experience lower back pain, cases of neck and upper back pain may often be caused by irritated muscles, joint dysfunction, or injury to a spinal disc. By knowing the location of your back pain, you doctor can more accurately diagnose the cause and find effective treatment.
  • Man lifting box
    3. There are several causes for back pain.
    Back pain can develop suddenly, such as after experiencing a fall or lifting something heavy. It may also happen slowly over time without a specific cause. The most common causes of back pain include muscle and ligament sprains and strains, osteoarthritis (wear and tear damage), arthritis (inflammation), a compressed spinal nerve, a herniated disc, degenerative disc disease, or skeletal irregularities (such as scoliosis). While common, untreated spinal arthritis can lead to far more serious back problems.
  • Man suffering from Parkinson's disease and multiple sclerosis standing near steps
    4. Spine weakness can lead to chronic back pain.
    Arthritis of the spine can lead to spinal stenosis, a condition more common in people over age 50 that’s caused by the breakdown of cartilage due to the natural aging process. With spinal stenosis, the spinal column becomes narrowed and in some cases, puts pressure on the spinal nerves, causing pain and discomfort. Another condition that causes weakness in the spine is osteoporosis, which happens when bones in the spine lose density and become brittle.
  • back pain
    5. Sudden back pain may signal a fracture.
    In some cases, back pain may be caused by a spinal fracture. These fractures can occur when bones in the spine are weakened and break down over time (osteoporosis). Compression fractures are the most common type of fracture caused by osteoporosis. Symptoms of a spinal fracture can include sudden, severe back pain; trouble bending or twisting; pain that worsens when standing or walking; a curved shape to the spine; and loss of height.
  • Physical Therapy Exercise for Lower Back
    6. There are many types of non-surgical back pain treatment.
    Excluding serious injuries, many cases of back pain can be effectively treated at home with self-care, including over-the-counter pain relievers, massage, using a heating pad, stretching, and engaging in safe exercise. If these methods are not helpful, your doctor may recommend prescription pain medicine, physical therapy, muscle relaxants, or narcotics. If your pain requires something a bit stronger, your doctor may suggest transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (known as TENS) or epidural steroid injections to help with inflammation. If you are concerned about your back pain, seek professional advice from your doctor.
  • spine specialist refers to model of spine while discussing with elderly patient
    7. When in doubt, see your doctor for back pain.
    When home care is no longer effective or your back pain becomes worse, it’s time to see your doctor for further treatment. In some situations, back pain could also signal a more serious condition that requires urgent treatment. Back pain with severe morning stiffness could signal a form of inflammatory arthritis. Pain that is not tied to a specific area in your back may signal a heart attack, especially if it starts in your chest and moves elsewhere. Back pain that occurs when you lay down to sleep could be a sign of a spinal bone infection or tumor.
  • smiling senior man using exericse bike
    8. Being proactive can help prevent back problems.
    A healthy lifestyle can often improve back discomfort and even prevent back problems. Keeping a healthy weight and a regular exercise routine, such as abdominal crunches, walking, swimming and yoga, can help strengthen your core and take pressure off your spine and back muscles. Maintaining good posture when sitting at a desk, watching TV, walking, or lifting an object also helps maintain a strong spine. Avoid smoking; smoke and nicotine can cause the discs in your spine to break down and wear out more rapidly. Finally, be aware of your limitations and use caution when putting strain on your back to help avoid future injuries and prevent back pain.
8 Things to Know About Back Pain | Back Pain Treatment

About The Author

  1. The Basics of Back Pain. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/the-basics-of-back-pain
  2. Back Pain. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/back-pain
  3. Types of Back Pain: Acute Pain, Chronic Pain, and Neuropathic Pain. SPINE-health. https://www.spine-health.com/conditions/chronic-pain/types-back-pain-acute-pain-chronic-pain-and-neu...
  4. Back Pain Causes. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/back-pain/basics/causes/con-20020797
  5. Spinal Stenosis. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/spinal-stenosis
  6. Osteoporosis and Spinal Fractures. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00538
  7. Preventing Back Pain at Work and at Home. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00175
  8. 5 Signs Your Back Pain Might Signal A More Serious Problem. Prevention. https://www.prevention.com/health/5-signs-your-back-pain-might-signal-a-more-serious-problem
Was this helpful?
Last Review Date: 2021 Nov 25
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.