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Dull Lower Back Pain Symptoms

Dull, nagging pain in the lower back — pain that never really goes away no matter the treatment — is one of the most common health problems.

Any sort of low back pain is a symptom, not a condition in itself. Therefore, you will need a definitive diagnosis so that the right course of treatment can begin. Even if the underlying cause cannot be entirely cured, it can still be managed for improvement in your quality of life.

Dull lower back pain may commonly be called lumbago, backache, a bad back, or back trouble [1,2].

Characteristics

Characteristics that are commonly associated with this type of back pain include:

  • Dull, aching pain in the low back: The pain may seem almost like numbness at times.
  • Exercise does not help: The pain may be sharp with exercise and go back to dullness with rest.

Duration

Most cases of dull lower back pain begin gradually and are chronic in nature, meaning the pain lasts longer than about three months and may become progressively worse.

Who is most often affected?

People who are most likely to experience this type of back pain include the following:

  • Older people: Men and women are equally affected, especially past the age of about 50.
  • Sedentary people: Anyone who gets little exercise and is not physically fit will end up with weakened muscles that cannot properly support the back. There will also be a loss of the circulation crucial to maintaining discs.
  • Smokers: Smoking interferes with getting oxygen into the tissues and therefore restricts healing.

When is it most likely to occur?

Pain may be sharp if you attempt to exercise and dull the rest of the time.

Is dull lower back pain serious?

Back pain may vary in severity depending on the cause.

  • Not serious: Mild back pain that has no other symptoms and responds to conservative treatment is probably not serious.
  • Moderately serious: Constant pain that never really improves is probably progressive and should be treated so that it does not become debilitating.
  • Serious: Dull low back pain may be serious if there are also symptoms signaling other conditions such as a loss of feeling in or control of the lower body or signs of any form of cancer.

Dull Lower Back Pain Causes Overview

Many conditions can cause the symptom of dull lower back pain. We've listed several different causes here, in approximate order from most to least common:

Spine degeneration

Degenerative spine conditions are often related to aging [3,4].

  • Vertebral disc damage: This involves desiccation (drying out) or rupture of the cushioning material between the bones of the spine.
  • Narrowing of the spinal canal: Bone overgrowth, lost disc material, or thickened ligaments can crowd the canal. This is generally called spinal stenosis.
  • Loss of bone density: Thinning, weakening, and sometimes crumbling of the bones due to loss of minerals may occur.

Poor physical condition

The back muscles and tendons will not have the strength and flexibility to support the back and its structures if the following are present:

  • Being overweight
  • Not exercising
  • Sitting for long periods of time

Women's issues

Issues specific to women that can cause dull lower back pain include:

  • Late pregnancy/early labor contractions
  • Cysts on the ovaries
  • Abnormal growth of uterine tissue

Bacterial infection

A bacterial infection may infiltrate the structures in and near the lower back, causing pain, such as:

  • Vertebrae
  • Discs
  • Reproductive organs in both men and women
  • Kidneys

Inflammation

Inflammation may be present in various structures of the back, leading to dull lower back pain.

  • Vertebrae: The individual spinal bones can become inflamed.
  • Discs: These are cushions between the vertebrae that can become inflamed.

Emotional and physical issues

Emotional and physical issues that are not well understood can sometimes manifest as physical pain in the lower back, such as:

Rare and unusual causes

Rare and unusual causes may include:

  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm: This condition, also referred to as AAA, is an enlargement of the aorta, the main blood vessel supplying blood to the abdomen. It can cause pain throughout the abdomen which may be felt in the lower back [5]. While gradual expansion may cause a dull pain and treated conservatively, sudden leakage or rupture is associated with severe often sharp pain and signs of shock and is a medical emergency needing immediate attention.
  • Tumors: Cancerous growths may originate in another part of the body and then spread to the back. Chronic low back pain can be a symptom of testicular, ovarian, or colon cancer. Tumors can also be benign but can otherwise infringe upon structures of the lower back, causing pain.

We've listed some specific conditions that can cause dull lower back pain, along with how to identify each of them:

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Dull Lower Back Pain

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced dull lower back pain. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Low Back Strain

    A strain, commonly called a "pulled muscle," is when a muscle becomes overstretched and tears. A low back strain happens when one of the muscles in the lower back is stressed due to an unusual movement (such as lifting a heavy object, or lifting while twisting).

    This is usually a self-limiting problem, and should subside on its own within weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, back pain that gets worse when sitting, back pain that gets worse when straightening it, lower left back pain, lower right back pain
    Symptoms that always occur with low back strain:
    lower back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with low back strain:
    involuntary defecation, first time leaking urine, back numbness, toe numbness, foot numbness
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  2. 2.Unexplained Acute Low Back Pain

    A precise anatomical cause for low back pain is rarely identified. Often, the specific cause of the pain is unknown and is likely due to strain on the bones and muscles of the back from heavy lifting, prolonged sitting, or bad posture.

    Most back pain lasts less than two weeks, and about 9 in 10 people are completely pain-free in less than six weeks.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, back pain that shoots to the butt, fever, back pain
    Symptoms that always occur with unexplained acute low back pain:
    lower back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with unexplained acute low back pain:
    buttocks numbness, thigh numbness, involuntary defecation, fever
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Herniated (Slipped) Disk in the Lower Back

    The backbone, or spine, is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between the bones are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance. These disks cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. Although people talk about a slipped disk, nothing actually slips out of place. The outer shell of the disk ruptures, and the jelly-like substance bulges out. It may be pressing on a nerve, which is what causes the pain.A slipped disk is more likely to happen due to strain on the back, such as during heavy lifting, and older individuals are at higher risk.

    The pain associated with a slipped disk usually goes away within six weeks. If the pain lasts longer, consult a doctor. They may send you to see a back specialist for an MRI of your spine, and surgery may be considered.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, moderate back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain that gets worse when sitting, leg weakness
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  4. 4.Chronic Low Back Pain of No Specific Origin

    A precise anatomical cause for low back pain can only be identified in 20 percent of cases. The rest of the time, the specific cause of the pain is unknown, and is likely due to strain on the bones and muscles of the back from heavy lifting, prolong sitting, or bad posture. Chronic low back pain is characteristic of back pain lasting longer than 12 weeks.

    The prognosis of chronic back pain is highly variable, and heavily dependent on the individual. However, it is not a life-threatening condition and is expected to significantly improve with directed exercises and staying active.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, unintentional weight loss, back pain that shoots to the butt, fever, involuntary defecation
    Symptoms that always occur with chronic low back pain of no specific origin:
    lower back pain
    Symptoms that never occur with chronic low back pain of no specific origin:
    thigh numbness, buttocks numbness, lower back pain from an injury
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

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  5. 5.Lower Back Arthritis

    Osteoarthritis, most often simply called arthritis, is a disease of cartilage. In joints, where bones touch and move against one another, cartilage helps provide lubrication for smooth movement, and acts as a shock absorber. Cartilage is also present in between vertebrae, which are the bones comprising the spine. Osteoarthritis of the spine, also known as degenerative joint disease, happens when the cartilage between vertebrae dries out and shrinks. The vertebrae are thus not as able to move smoothly against one another. The ability to walk and perform normal daily activities can be impaired due to inflammation and pain in the lower back.

    Currently, there is no widely accepted cure for osteoarthritis, and medical care is centered on management of symptoms. General pain killers are likely to reduce pain symptoms in the short term (hours up to a day). Corticosteroid injections can reduce pain symptoms for months.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, spontaneous back pain, back pain that gets worse when straightening it, back pain from overuse
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  6. 6.Pelvic Inflammatory Disease

    Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is an infection of the female genital structures like the uterus, fallopian tube, ovary, and the surrounding abdominal wall. It is typically caused by N. Gonorrhoeae or C. Trachomatis.

    Prognosis after treatment within 3 days of symptom onset is great (88%-100%). Those that are hospitalized, older, or have had gynecological surgery have a worse time with this infection.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge, vaginal discharge, nausea or vomiting, vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain
    Symptoms that always occur with pelvic inflammatory disease:
    fever, abdominal pain or unusual vaginal discharge
    Urgency:
    In-person visit
  7. 7.Fibromyalgia

    Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes widespread pain, tenderness, and fatigue.

    Fibromyalgia is generally a lifelong condition

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
    Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia:
    arthralgias or myalgias
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  8. 8.Spinal Stenosis

    The spine, or backbone, protects the spinal cord and allows people to stand and bend. Spinal stenosis causes narrowing in the spine. The narrowing puts pressure on nerves and the spinal cord and can cause pain.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    lower back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain that shoots to the butt, difficulty walking, thigh pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Dull Lower Back Pain Treatments and Relief

As long as your pain is not severe, treatment can begin at home. You should consult your physician, however, if symptoms persist or worsen.

At-home treatments

Several remedies you can try at home may provide relief from your low back pain.

  • Heat and cold: Use hot or cold packs, whichever seems most helpful.
  • NSAIDs: Try non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, as long as your medical provider agrees.
  • Topical analgesics: Try those that induce the feeling of heat or cold.
  • Stay active: Limit bed rest and time spent sitting.
  • Low-impact exercise: Try walking and swimming, which will improve strength, circulation, and flexibility.
  • Lifestyle improvements: Look into changing your diet, exercise, sleep, and smoking habits for an overall improvement in health.

Medical treatments

If conservative methods do not provide relief, consult your physician for the following.

  • Prescription medication: The use of opioids and/or antidepressants may be discussed.
  • Physical therapy: You may go over appropriate stretching, strengthening, and yoga-type exercises that you can do at home.
  • Chiropractic care: You may be referred to a chiropractor for treatment, which can be very helpful in some cases.
  • Alternative treatments: You can discuss acupuncture, biofeedback, and use of a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) unit.

Seek immediate treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if the following occur

Cauda equina syndrome is a complication of a ruptured disc, where disc cushioning material is pushed into the spinal canal. This interferes with nerves and causes loss of bladder and bowel control [6].

FAQs About Dull Lower Back Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about dull lower back pain.

Can steroid injections help in cases of chronic low back pain?

In some cases, yes, especially when there has been a ruptured disc or when there is spinal stenosis — a narrowing or partial blockage of the spinal canal [7]. However, steroid injections can help only in the short term and cannot be continued indefinitely without other risks such as diabetes or bleeding disorders [8].

Is there a link between chronic dull lower back pain and depression?

Many medical providers feel that there is [9]. Lack of exercise, opioid use, loss and limitation of activities, and isolation can all contribute to both depression and low back pain. Emotional pain sometimes manifests as physical pain, which is why antidepressants can be helpful in breaking the vicious cycle of low back pain and depression.

Can surgery help in chronic cases of dull lower back pain?

This will depend on the cause of the pain, of course, but surgery is not often recommended in these cases. Surgery can be effective in cases of acute injury with specific damage, but cannot always improve chronic, nonspecific pain that may largely be due to aging, loss of fitness, or depression.

Is dull lower back pain a sign of labor?

Low back pain is common during late pregnancy when the increasing weight of the growing baby puts a strain on the structures of the low back. Early contractions may begin at the same time as this abdominal strain and add to the dull ache in the low back. All of this is, of course, resolved after the birth.

Is chronic dull lower back pain a sign of serious illness?

Most cases of chronic low back pain are not signs of serious illness but are the result of aging, inflammation, wear-and-tear, poor physical fitness, etc. Rarely, however, low back pain can be a serious symptom if there is also high fever; loss of bowel or bladder control; or signs indicating any form of cancer.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Dull Lower Back Pain

  • Q.Does your back pain radiate anywhere?
  • Q.Were you lifting weights or straining yourself right before your symptoms started?
  • Q.What is your body mass?
  • Q.Any fever today or during the last week?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our dull lower back pain symptom checker to find out more.

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Dull Lower Back Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced dull lower back pain have also experienced:

    • 6% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
    • 5% Bloody Vaginal Discharge
    • 3% Nausea
  • People who have experienced dull lower back pain had symptoms persist for:

    • 29% Less Than a Week
    • 29% Over a Month
    • 22% Less Than a Day
  • People who have experienced dull lower back pain were most often matched with:

    • 60% Herniated (Slipped) Disk in the Lower Back
    • 20% Low Back Strain
    • 20% Unexplained Acute Low Back Pain
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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References

  1. Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated August 7, 2018. NINDS Link
  2. Low Back Pain. FamilyDoctor.org. Updated November 13, 2017. FamilyDoctor.org Link
  3. Degenerative Spine Conditions. The Spine Journal. The Spine Journal Link
  4. Degenerative Spine Disease. Stanford Health Care. Stanford Health Care Link
  5. Van Wyngaarden JJ, Ross MD, Hando BR. Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm in a Patient with Low Back Pain. The Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy. 2014;44(7):500-507. NCBI Link
  6. Cauda Equina Syndrome. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. AANS Link
  7. Bicket MC, Gupta A, Brown CH, Cohen SP. Epidural Injections for Spinal Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis Evaluating the "Control" Injections in Randomized Controlled Trials. Anesthesiology. 2013;119:907-931. Anesthesiology Link
  8. Steroid Induced Diabetes. Diabetes.co.uk. Diabetes.co.uk Link
  9. Sheng J, Liu S, Wang Y, Cui R, Zhang X. The Link Between Depression and Chronic Pain: Neural Mechanisms in the Brain. Neural Plasticity. 2017;2017:9724371. NCBI Link