Low back pain is pain that can occur anywhere below the ribs and above the legs. It is very common. Almost everyone has it at one time or another.
Low back pain can be:
This is new pain that can last a few days to a few weeks—at the most a few months.
This pain can last for more than a few months. Sometimes it can last for years.
Here are some common myths about low back pain—and the facts:
Fact: Staying active won't hurt you. It may help you get better faster.
Fact: It's best to try to let time and being active heal your back. Opioid pain medicines—such as hydromorphone or oxycodone—usually don't work any better than over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen or naproxen. And opioids can cause serious problems like addiction or overdose.
Fact: Getting a test right away won't help you get better faster. And it could lead you down a treatment path you may not need, since most people get better on their own.
In most cases, there isn't a clear cause. This can be frustrating, because your back hurts and there's no obvious reason. Your back pain can be caused by:
This can happen from playing sports, lifting heavy things, or not being physically fit.
This is a problem with the cushion between the bones in your back.
With age, you may have changes in your bones that can narrow the space around your nerves.
In rare cases, the cause is a serious illness like an infection or cancer. But there are usually other symptoms too.
Your symptoms depend on your body and the cause of your back pain. You may feel:
A physical examination is the main way to diagnose low back pain. Your doctor may examine your back, check your nerves by testing your reflexes, and make sure that your muscles are strong. He or she also will ask questions about your back and overall health.
Most people don't need any tests right away. Tests often don't show the reason for your pain.
If your pain lasts more than 6 weeks or you have symptoms that your doctor is more concerned about, he or she may order tests. These may include an X-ray, a CT scan, or an MRI. In some cases, tests can help your doctor find a cause for your pain, especially for pain in one or both legs.
Most acute low back pain gets better on its own within a few weeks, no matter what the cause. Time and doing usual activities are all that most people need to feel better.
Using heat or ice and taking over-the-counter pain medicine also can help while your body heals.
If you aren't getting better on your own or your pain is very bad, your doctor may recommend:
If you have chronic low back pain, treatment will help you understand and manage your pain. Treatment may include:
Surgery isn't needed for most people. But it may help some types of low back pain.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:
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Current as of: April 6, 2018
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
& Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Steven J. Atlas, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine & Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine
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