Low back pain is common. Almost everyone has back pain at some time in their life. Often, the exact cause of the pain cannot be found.
Low back pain that is long-term is called chronic low back pain.
A single event may not have caused your pain. You may have been doing many activities, such as lifting the wrong way, for a long time. Then suddenly, one simple movement, such as reaching for something or bending from your waist, leads to pain.
Many people with chronic back pain have arthritis. Or they may have extra wear and tear of the spine, which may be due to:
You may have had a herniated disk, in which part of the spinal disk pushed onto nearby nerves. Normally, the disks provide space and cushion in your spine. If these disks dry out and become thinner and more brittle, you can lose movement in the spine over time.
If the spaces between the spinal nerves and spinal cord become narrowed, this can lead to spinal stenosis. These problems are called degenerative joint or spine disease.
Other possible causes of chronic low back pain include:
You are at greater risk for low back pain if you:
Low back pain can differ from person to person. The pain may be mild, or it can be so severe that you are unable to move.
Depending on the cause of your back pain, you may also have pain in your leg, hip, or on the bottom of your foot.
During the physical exam, the health care provider will try to pinpoint the location of the pain and figure out how it affects your movement.
Other tests you have depend on your medical history and symptoms.
Tests may include:
Your back pain may not go away completely, or it may get more painful at times. Learn to take care of your back at home and how to prevent repeat episodes of back pain. This can help you continue with your normal activities.
Your doctor may recommend measures to reduce your pain, including:
These health care providers can also help:
If needed, your doctor may prescribe medicines to help with your back pain:
If your pain does not improve with medicine, physical therapy, and other treatments, your doctor may recommend an epidural injection.
Spinal surgery is considered only if you have nerve damage or the cause of the back pain does not heal after a long time.
In some patients, a spinal cord stimulator can help reduce back pain.
Other treatments that may be recommended if your pain does not improve with medicine and physical therapy include:
Some people with low back pain may also need:
Most back problems get better on their own. Follow your health care provider's advice on treatment and self-care measures.
Call your health care provider if you have severe back pain that does not go away. Call right away if you have numbness, loss of movement, weakness, or bowel or bladder changes.
Nonspecific back pain; Backache - chronic; Lumbar pain - chronic; Pain - back - chronic; Chronic back pain - low
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Updated by: Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, FRCS (C), FACS, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles CA; Department of Surgery at Los Robles Hospital, Thousand Oaks CA; Department of Surgery at Ashland Community Hospital, Ashland OR; Department of Surgery at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, Cheyenne WY; Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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