Symptoms A-Z

Severe Back Pain Symptoms, Causes & Common Questions

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

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Contents

  1. 10 Possible Severe Back Pain Causes
  2. Questions Your Doctor May Ask
  3. Statistics

10 Possible Severe Back Pain Causes

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

Sciatica

Sciatica is a general term describing any shooting pain that begins at the spine and travels down the leg.

The most common cause is a herniated or "slipped" disc in the lower spine. This means some of the cushioning material inside the disc has been forced outward, pressing on a nerve root. Bony irregularities of the spine and narrowing of the spinal canal (spinal stenosis) can also cause sciatica.

Shooting leg pain that may begin suddenly or develop gradually is the most common symptom. Additional symptoms may include weakness, numbness, a pins-and-needles sensation in the leg, and, in severe cases, difficulty moving the foot or bending the knee.

Treatment consists of pain medications and exercises. In severe cases, corticosteroid spinal injections and surgery may also be recommended.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: back pain, back pain that shoots down the leg, numbness in one foot, pain in one leg, numbness in one thigh

Symptoms that always occur with sciatica: back pain that shoots down the leg

Urgency: Self-treatment

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

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

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 urinary tract infections, and certain genetic conditions.

Pain is usually experienced in the abdomen or flank, depending on the location of the stone. A diagnosis is made by imaging and urine studies.

Treatment options include hydration and medications to facilitate spontaneous stone passage and various procedures to remove the stone.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: abdominal or flank pain, nausea, abdominal pain that comes and goes, diarrhea, pelvis pain

Symptoms that always occur with kidney stone: abdominal or flank pain

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

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

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Spondylolysis

"Spondylos," refers to the vertebrae, and "lysis," means destruction or dissolving. Spondylolysis is a defect or damage via a stress fracture in one of the vertebrae of the spinal column. It commonly affects children or adolescents who are active or frequently participate in sports.

Some cases of spondylolysis may be asymptomatic at times. Presenting symptoms include lower back pain, muscle spasms, pain that worsens with exercise, a limited range of motion, a swayback posture, and an awkward gait.

Treatments include rest, over-the-counter medications, responsible exercise, possible procedures, and rehabilitation.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: lower back pain, back pain from overuse, back pain that gets worse when straightening it, lower back pain from an injury

Symptoms that always occur with spondylolysis: lower back pain

Symptoms that never occur with spondylolysis: back pain that shoots down the leg, back pain that shoots to the butt

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

Lower back (sacral vertebral) fracture

A sacral stress fracture is a small break in the sacrum. The sacrum is a large triangular bone at base of the spine. The sacrum connects to the pelvis.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: lower back pain, back pain that shoots to the butt, back pain that shoots down the leg, severe back pain, lower back pain from an injury

Symptoms that always occur with lower back (sacral vertebral) fracture: lower back pain from an injury

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Kidney infection (pyelonephritis)

A kidney infection, or pyelonephritis, is actually a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that begins in the urethra or bladder and spreads to the kidneys.

The infection is caused by bacteria that either travel into the urethra or spread from an infection elsewhere in the body.

Women, especially pregnant women, are most susceptible. Anyone who has had a urinary tract blockage, or uses a catheter, or has a weakened immune system is also at risk for a kidney infection.

Symptoms include fever; chills; back and abdominal pain; and frequent, painful urination. If there is also nausea and vomiting and discolored, foul-smelling urine, take the patient to the emergency room or call 9-1-1.

Left untreated, pyelonephritis can cause permanent damage to the kidneys. Bacteria can also enter the bloodstream and cause a life-threatening infection elsewhere in the body.

Diagnosis is made through urine test, blood test, and sometimes imaging such as ultrasound, CT scan, or x-ray.

Treatment includes antibiotics and sometimes hospitalization.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, pelvis pain, back pain, vomiting

Symptoms that never occur with kidney infection (pyelonephritis): mid back pain from an injury

Urgency: Hospital emergency room

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Severe 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?
  • How would you describe the cause of your lower back pain?
  • Any fever today or during the last week?

The above questions are also covered by our A.I. Health Assistant.

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

Take a quiz to find out why you're having severe back pain

Severe Back Pain Symptom Checker Statistics

People who have experienced severe back pain have also experienced:

  • 3% Back Pain
  • 2% Lower Back Pain
  • 2% Fatigue

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

  • 60% Iliolumbar Syndrome
  • 20% Sciatica
  • 20% Low Back Strain

People who have experienced severe 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 visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

Severe Back Pain Symptom Checker

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