About Back Pain

Causes of Pain

We often don't know what causes back pain, but some likely reasons are:

  • strained muscles
  • sprained ligaments
  • tight joints
  • small tears in the disks

These injuries usually don't show up on imaging tests, like X-rays, MRIs or CT scans. Most people with back pain aren't helped by getting these imaging tests. However, your doctor may order an imaging test if your symptoms call for one, or if you're not getting better after 4-6 weeks. Whatever the cause, this type of common back pain  is usually treated the same way: stay active, limit time spent lying down to rest, apply heat, and take non-prescription pain relievers.

The majority of people with low back pain symptoms (about 90%) don't know the exact reason for their pain. It can be frustrating not knowing what's causing your pain, but this doesn't mean that there's something serious going on. It's difficult to actually damage your spine. Back pain is common, and generally not serious.

Should I see a doctor?

While low back pain isn't serious in most people, there are a few warning signs to watch out for.

Call your doctor right away if you have:

  • weakness, numbness or tingling in your leg
  • pain spreading down your leg, especially below your knee
  • new bladder or bowel problems
  • unexplained weight loss, fever, or stomach pain
  • constant or intense pain, especially when you lie down
  • had a fall, blow to your back or other injury
  • a history of cancer, osteoporosis, steroid use, or drug or alcohol abuse
  • pain for the first time and you're over 50 years old

If you don't have any of these warning signs, chances are good that your back will start feeling a little better within a few days. If it doesn't improve at all, or if the pain gets worse, call your doctor. Most people recover completely within a few weeks. If your back pain is still bothering you after a month, see your doctor.