What Kind of Lower Back Pain You Are Suffering From?

Many outdoor activities this time of year can wreak havoc on your back. Or, maybe you’re still feeling the effects of shoveling snow. Regardless of how you end up with a back ache, it will often go away on its own.

Read on to learn what causes most backaches and when to see the doctor.

Getting to the Source of the Problem

Lower back pain can be caused by many things, including injury or aging. Often it’s a symptom of another problem. For example, you can strain a muscle while lifting – without realizing it – and wake up the next day with a backache.

Even when the problem lies entirely with the spine, pain can radiate beyond the lower back to your butt or legs. So finding the source of pain can be tricky.

Types of Lower Back Pain

  • Strain and sprain of back muscle and ligament: Usually gets better in matter of days to weeks.
  • Internal Disc Disruption (IDD): Results from tears inside a spinal disc where new nerve fibers grow making the disc itself painful. IDD often occurs between ages 30-50. Pain is typically in the center of the back and gets worse with prolonged sitting.
  • Facet joint related pain: Usually caused by injury or arthritis. Facet joints are paired joints on either side of your spine where two back vertebrae come together (with a disc between them). They work like hinges allowing your spine to arch back or roll forward in a controlled fashion. Usually pain is on one side of the lower back depending which side of the facet joint is causing pain.
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis: Caused by narrowing of the spinal canal that comes naturally with aging. You’ve likely seen elderly people with this condition leaning forward on walkers or shopping carts. It usually causes both butt and leg pain with or without much back pain itself.
  • Lumbar radicular pain (sciatica): Triggered by a pinched nerve root coming out of the spinal canal usually from a slipped disc (disc herniation). Pain occurs on one side of your butt with sharp pain shooting down your leg. As painful as it is, it will often go away on its own.
  • Sacro-iliac joint pain: Can be triggered by a slip or fall on your butt. Pain is mostly felt on one side of your butt.

Other causes: compression fractures from osteoporosis (bone thinning) in the elderly, cancer, and infection. (Fortunately, the last two conditions are rare.)

When to See Your Doctor

If you are injured in a fall or serious accident or your pain is very severe, go to urgent care or the emergency room. Most minor backaches go away on their own, so call your doctor if yours lasts longer than four to six weeks. Before heading to the doctor, keep track of the pain – when and where it hurts – since this will help your doctor diagnose the cause and determine your best treatment options.

Meet the Author

Mustafa Farooque, MD is board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation and fellowship trained in musculoskeletal spine and sports medicine at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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