Normal Occurrence Of Back Pain Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Back pain can occur due to a muscle or ligament strain, a vertebral compression fracture, a bulging or herniated disk, other trauma or injury, or even stress or depression. The pain can occur in a variety of locations and vary in severity depending on the cause.

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  1. Overview
  2. Symptoms
  3. Potential Causes
  4. Treatment, Prevention and Relief
  5. Real-life Stories
  6. When to Seek Further Consultation
  7. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  8. Read this next
  9. References

What Is Normal Occurrence Of Back Pain?


A normal occurrence of back pain refers to back pain that is caused by common, less serious causes. The nature of the back pain, including its onset, location, severity, and duration depends on the cause.

Common causes of back pain include muscle or ligament strain, vertebral compression fracture, bulging or herniated disc, a degenerative joint disease of the spine, narrowing of the spinal canal, abnormal curvature of the spine, and stress, anxiety, or depression.

Treatment options include non-medication treatments such as heat or massage, exercise and physical therapy, as well as pain medications. Steroid injections and surgery are potentially helpful in limited cases.

Recommended care

Since your back pain looks like it is variation of normal, it doesn't require any treatment, for now. Most back pain goes away on its own, though it may take a while. You can take over the counter pain medication like Tylenol. If your back pain gets worse, persists or if additional symptoms occur, please check in again or contact your primary care physician.

Normal Occurrence Of Back Pain Symptoms

The diagnosis of back pain is made by clinical examination. Imaging and laboratory testing may be used in some cases to rule out more serious causes of back pain.

Main symptoms

The main symptom of a normal occurrence of back pain is, of course, back pain. Back pain that is considered normal can be described by the following details.

  • Duration and classifications: Back pain is generally classified as either acute (<4 weeks in duration), subacute (4 weeks to 3 months in duration), or chronic (>3 months in duration) [1].
  • Muscle or ligament strain: This pain is usually located in the lower back and will improve on its own in a few weeks.
  • Herniated disc: This may cause pain that is sharp or burning in nature and may radiate down the back or side of one leg.
  • Spinal stenosis: Back pain caused by narrowing of the spinal canal may get worse with walking and improve with sitting or leaning forward.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms that are likely with a normal occurrence of back pain include the following.

  • Tenderness when pushing on the back: This is common in muscle or ligament strain, and can be noticed when pushing on either side of the spine.
  • Limited flexibility or range of motion of the back: The range of motion may be caused by pain or be due to changes in the bony structure of the spine. This is commonly seen in osteoarthritis of the back, due to damage to the joints.

Concerning symptoms

Of note, symptoms such as severe back pain, fever, weakness in the legs, or loss of bowel or bladder function suggest a more serious cause of back pain that warrants additional investigation such as an imaging test.

Normal Occurrence Of Back Pain Causes

A normal occurrence of back pain generally refers to back pain that is caused by common, less serious causes. Back pain is a very common condition that affects more than 80 percent of people at some point in their lives [1]. The first episode of back pain usually occurs between 20 and 40 years of age, and 25 to 62 percent of people will experience recurrent back pain within one to two years [2]. Most causes of back pain are not due to a serious underlying condition. Specific causes of back pain include the following.

Muscle or ligament strain

Muscle or ligament strain is one of the most common causes of back pain among people going to primary care doctors. Ligaments are fibrous bands of tissue that connect bones to other bones. Muscle or ligament strain can result from sudden movement or lifting, especially if done in an improper position. This type of pain usually worsens with activity and improves with rest.

Vertebral compression fracture

A vertebral compression fracture is a break in one of the bones that make up the spine. Vertebral compression fractures may occur after traumatic injury to the back or may occur spontaneously in older individuals or people who use steroid medications for a prolonged period of time. You may experience tenderness when the bony part of the back is pressed upon.

Bulging or herniated disc

Discs are rubbery cushions that are located between segments of the spine and help cushion the spine. Sometimes a disc can bulge outward or slip from their usual position ("herniate"), potentially impinging upon or irritating nearby nerves. This can cause back pain that may radiate down one leg.

Degenerative joint disease of the spine (spondylosis)

Spondylosis is joint inflammation and damage that results from the normal wear-and-tear of the joints of the spine. Spondylosis usually affects older individuals.

Narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis)

The spinal canal is the hollow space in the spine where the spinal cord normally runs. In some cases, this space can become narrowed. This can occur from degeneration of the joints of the spine, slippage of one of the vertebral bodies, or thickening of a ligament that runs along the spinal canal. Narrowing of the spinal canal can push on the spinal cord and cause back pain. This pain is usually worse with standing and walking, and improves with rest or leaning forward.

Abnormal curvature of the spine

Examples of abnormal curvature of the spine include scoliosis, in which the spine is abnormally curved sideways, and hyperkyphosis, in which the spine is abnormally bent forward ("hunchback").

Stress, anxiety, and/or depression

These conditions can cause back pain without an underlying physical cause, or exacerbate existing back pain. These factors are commonly associated with the development of chronic back pain [3].

Of note, a normal occurrence of back pain generally does not include more serious causes of back pain. These include compression of the spinal cord, cancer in the spine, and infections of the spine.

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Treatment Options and Prevention

Treatment for a normal occurrence of back pain is focused on managing symptoms and potentially treating any underlying causes of the pain. Most people with a normal occurrence of back pain will improve within a month [1], although 31 percent of people with acute back pain will not fully recover by six months, and many people will experience recurrences of the back pain [2]. In some cases, people with acute back pain may go on to develop chronic back pain. Treatment options for back pain include the following.

Non-medication treatments

People with a normal occurrence of low back pain may benefit from first trying non-medication treatments such as heat, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation. Although there is no strong evidence for these treatments, they may help relieve symptoms in some people and generally have few side effects.

Continue normal activity, exercise, and/or physical therapy

Most people with back pain should continue their normal activity if possible. Continuing normal activity is associated with faster recovery and better outcomes than bed rest. In addition, some people may benefit from participating in an exercise program or physical therapy. This is usually recommended for people who are at risk of developing chronic back pain.

Pain medications

People with back pain that is not adequately controlled with non-medication treatments may benefit from a course of pain medications. Commonly used medications include the following.

  • Over-the-counter painkillers: This includes acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve, Naprosyn).
  • Muscle relaxants: These include cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril, Amrix, Fexmid), baclofen (Gablofen), or tizanidine (Zanaflex).
  • Opioids: In rare cases, people may benefit from a short course of opioid-containing medications such as oxycodone-acetaminophen (Percocet) or tramadol (Ultram), although these are associated with more side effects and risk of abuse.

Steroid injections

Some people with back pain may benefit from steroid injections into the area near the spine. Steroid injections have only been shown to be beneficial for back pain that radiates down one leg, which usually results from irritation or impingement of a nerve [4].

Surgery to correct any underlying disorders

In rare cases, some people may benefit from surgery to treat any underlying causes of their back pain. For example, people with herniated discs may benefit from surgery to remove part or all of the herniated disc, and people with a narrowing of the spinal canal may benefit from surgery to remove part of the bone that is causing the narrowing. Surgery is usually reserved for cases that are not adequately treated with medical treatments.

Real-life Stories

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When to Seek Further Consultation

If you develop any symptoms of back pain, you should go to your physician. Your physician can perform an evaluation and determine the cause of your back pain, then offer the appropriate treatment.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask to Diagnose

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask about the following symptoms and risk factors.

  • Does your back pain radiate anywhere?
  • How would you describe the cause of your lower back pain?
  • Is your lower back pain constant or come-and-go?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?
  • How severe is your back pain?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions

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  1. Patrick N, Emanski E, Knaub MA. Acute and chronic low back pain. Med Clin North Am. 2014;98(4):777-89, xii. NCBI Link
  2. Casazza B. Diagnosis and treatment of acute low back pain. Am Fam Physician. 2012;85(4):343-350. AAFP Link
  3. Last AR, Hulbert K. Chronic low back pain: Evaluation and management. Am Fam Physician. 2009;79(12):1067-1074. AAFP Link
  4. Depalma MJ, Slipman CW. Evidence-informed management of chronic low back pain with epidural steroid injections. Spine J. 2008;8(1):45-55. NCBI Link
  5. Allegri M, Montella S, Salici F, et al. Mechanisms of low back pain: A guide for diagnosis and therapy. F1000Res. 2016;5:F1000 Faculty Rev-1530. NCBI Link

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