Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

Understand your lower back pain symptoms, including 10 causes & common questions.

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Contents

  1. 10 Possible Lower Back Pain Causes
  2. FAQs
  3. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  4. Statistics
  5. Related Articles

10 Possible Lower Back Pain Causes

The list below shows results from the use of our quiz by Buoy users who experienced lower back pain. This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.

Low back strain

A strain is defined as a twisting, pulling, or tearing injury to a muscle, or to the tendon that connects the muscle to the bone. (A sprain is an injury to a ligament, which connects two bones together.)

Strains may be acute (happen suddenly) or chronic (show up gradually.) They are usually caused by overuse, improper lifting of heavy objects, or sports. Being overweight or having weak back muscles are both risk factors for back injury.

Symptoms may include a pop or tear at the time of injury; pain that is worse when moving; and sudden muscle cramping or spasm at the site of the injury.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes x-ray.

Treatment involves rest; ice packs; and over-the-counter pain relievers, followed by a gradual return to normal activities within two weeks. Prolonged immobility actually weakens the back and causes loss of bone density.

Proper lifting techniques, strengthening exercises, and good nutrition can be very helpful in preventing further injury.

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

Traumatic vertebral fracture

Vertebrae are the individual small bones that fit together, one above the other, to form the spine. If a vertebra is broken and/or dislocated due to sudden forceful injury (trauma,) this is a traumatic vertebral fracture.

The term includes fracture of the transverse processes, the "wings" of bone on either side of each vertebra. This is a less serious injury.

Automobile accidents, sports injuries, and falls from heights are common causes, as are gunshot wounds.

Symptoms include severe back pain that is worse with movement. Damage to the spinal cord causes limb numbness and weakness, with bowel and bladder dysfunction.

This is a medical emergency. One vertebra has been partially or entirely torn away from the vertebra directly below it and damaged the spinal cord. Take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination, neurologic tests to assess ability to move, and imaging.

Surgery stabilizes and realigns the spine, which removes pressure from the spinal cord. Rehabilitation will help the patient regain normal function.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: back pain, constant back pain, severe back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain affecting the spine

Symptoms that always occur with traumatic vertebral fracture: back pain

Symptoms that never occur with traumatic vertebral fracture: mild back pain

Urgency: Emergency medical service

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.

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

Iliolumbar syndrome

Iliolumbar syndrome is also known as iliolumbar ligament sprain or iliac crest pain syndrome (ICPS.)

The iliolumbar ligaments are tough, fibrous bands that brace the iliac crests – the tops of the "wings" of the pelvis – to the back of the lower spine. If these ligaments are overstretched or torn, pain can result.

The syndrome may be acute, which means the pain starts suddenly after some sort of trauma such as a car accident or sports injury. It may be chronic, where it begins gradually and is usually caused by repetitive bending or twisting movements. In both cases, it is often found in patients who already have generalized low back pain.

Symptoms include severe, radiating pain from the low back to the hipbones, especially when bending or twisting

Diagnosis is made through physical examination and simple neurological tests such as leg raises.

Treatment involves rest, ice, and the use of over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Steroid injections can also be tried in some cases.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: lower back pain, back pain that shoots to the butt, severe back pain, back pain that shoots to the groin

Symptoms that always occur with iliolumbar syndrome: lower back pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Chronic low back pain of no specific origin

Low back pain is defined as pain, tightness, and stiffness between the lower end of the rib cage and the buttocks. "Chronic" means the pain has lasted for twelve weeks or longer, and "no specific origin" means the pain cannot be traced to any specific cause, incident, or injury.

Most susceptible are individuals who perform heavy physical work, especially when there is ongoing anxiety, depression, and emotional stress at the same time. The longer the stress and back pain continue, the more difficult it is to ease the symptoms and return the patient to normal functioning.

Treatment involves nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and sometimes opioid medications for pain, though both have risks when used long term. Antidepressants may also be tried, along with psychological counseling.

Corticosteroid injections for the back are effective for some patients, and fusion surgery is sometimes attempted. Lifestyle changes in the form of improved diet, exercise, and stress management are very helpful in most cases.

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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Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.

The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.

Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.

Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.

There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.

Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.

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

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.

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

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.

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

Greater trochanteric pain syndrome

Greater trochanteric pain syndrome, also called trochanteric bursitis or GTPS, is an inflammation of the bursa of the greater trochanter. Bursae are the small "cushions" between tendons, bones, and muscles. The greater trochanter is th...

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Kidney stone

A kidney stone is a stone made up of various possible materials that forms in the kidneys. Factors that increase the risk of forming kidney stones include high levels of calcium, uric acid, and oxalate in the urine, low levels of citrate in the urine, abnormal urine pH, low urine volume, certain urin...

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FAQs About Lower Back Pain

Here are some frequently asked questions about lower back pain.

Why does my lower back hurt so much all of a sudden?

Acute (sudden) lower back pain can have many causes. Most often, lower back pain is not caused by anything dangerous or even identifiable. Most commonly acute back pain is due to muscle spasm or strain. However, lower back pain can also be caused by compression of the spinal cord from herniation of an intervertebral disk. Cancer can also cause back pain, but is not frequently sudden. Infections may also cause back pain, but are both less common and also associated with infection. Other causes of back pain that are less serious include compression fractures, usually in older individuals or individuals with poor or insufficient diets, impingement of a nerve root (as opposed to the entire spinal cord), and spinal stenosis or narrowing of the spinal canal which may happen with age-related changes of the spinal cord.

How should I sleep with lower back pain?

This depends on the cause of back pain. If back pain is muscular, sleeping in such a way as to take strain off the muscles would be useful. This can mean sleeping with more or less back support, on one's stomach, or on one's back. It is best to try a different positions. If you are unable to get comfortable and back pain persists for a long period of time (e.g. consistently for over two weeks), then it may be necessary to seek medical evaluation.

Can posture affect lower back pain?

Yes, posture can cause or even worsen lower back pain. Ideal posture involves shoulders back and diaphragm lifted. If you sit at a desk with your shoulders forward this can cause lower back pain. This is commonly referred to a hunched position and places strain on the muscles of your lower back. Correct ergonomics (our interactions with things such as chairs and desks) is important for those who sit for many hours at work or home, especially when using a computer).

Is it okay to walk with lower back pain?

Yes, for the most common types of lower back pain it is alright to walk and may even reduce the pain. However, if you are experiencing any change in sensation or numbness below the waist and especially if you are experiencing weakness, it is best to seek immediate medical evaluation.

Is lower back pain a sign of a kidney problem?

Yes, lower back pain can be a sign of an infection of the kidney, called pyelonephritis, in which bacteria reach and infect the kidney. This is frequently limited to one side especially the flank or side of the back, but can, in rare cases, affect both kidneys on either side. This is, again, less common than more frequent causes of lower back pain including muscle spasm or strain.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Lower Back Pain

To diagnose this condition, your doctor would likely ask the following questions:

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

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

Please take a quiz to find out what might be causing your lower back pain. These questions are also covered.

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Lower Back Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced lower back pain have also experienced:

  • 5% Abdominal Pain (Stomach Ache)
  • 4% Hip Pain
  • 4% Bloody Vaginal Discharge

People who have experienced lower back pain were most often matched with:

  • 63% Traumatic Vertebral Fracture
  • 27% Herniated (Slipped) Disk In The Lower Back
  • 9% Low Back Strain

People who have experienced lower back pain had symptoms persist for:

  • 29% Less than a week
  • 29% Over a month
  • 22% Less than a day

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).

Lower Back Pain Symptom Checker

Take a quiz to find out what might be causing your lower back pain