Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide.
Fortunately, you can take measures to prevent or relieve most back pain episodes. If prevention fails, simple home treatment and proper body mechanics often will heal your back within a few weeks and keep it functional. Surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain.
Back pain can range from a muscle aching to a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation. In addition, the pain may radiate down your leg or worsen with bending, twisting, lifting, standing or walking.
Most back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, usually within a few weeks. Contact your doctor if your back pain:
In rare cases, back pain can signal a serious medical problem. Seek immediate care if your back pain:
Back pain often develops without a cause that your doctor can identify with a test or an imaging study. Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:
Anyone can develop back pain, even children and teens. These factors might put you at greater risk of developing back pain:
You might avoid back pain or prevent its recurrence by improving your physical condition and learning and practicing proper body mechanics.
To keep your back healthy and strong:
Avoid movements that twist or strain your back. Use your body properly:
Because back pain is so common, numerous products promise prevention or relief. But there's no definitive evidence that special shoes, shoe inserts, back supports, specially designed furniture or stress management programs can help.
In addition, there doesn't appear to be one type of mattress that's best for people with back pain. It's probably a matter of what feels most comfortable to you.
Your doctor will examine your back and assess your ability to sit, stand, walk and lift your legs. Your doctor might also ask you to rate your pain on a scale of zero to 10 and talk to you about how well you're functioning with your pain.
These assessments help determine where the pain comes from, how much you can move before pain forces you to stop and whether you have muscle spasms. They can also help rule out more-serious causes of back pain.
If there is reason to suspect that a specific condition is causing your back pain, your doctor might order one or more tests:
Most back pain gets better within a month of home treatment. However, everyone is different, and back pain is a complex condition. For many, the pain doesn't go away for a few months, but only a few have persistent, severe pain.
Over-the-counter pain relievers and the use of heat might be all you need. Bed rest isn't recommended.
Continue your activities as much as you can tolerate. Try light activity, such as walking and activities of daily living. Stop activity that increases pain, but don't avoid activity out of fear of pain. If home treatments aren't working after several weeks, your doctor might suggest stronger medications or other therapies.
Depending on the type of back pain you have, your doctor might recommend the following:
A physical therapist can teach you exercises to increase your flexibility, strengthen your back and abdominal muscles, and improve your posture. Regular use of these techniques can help keep pain from returning. Physical therapists will also provide education about how to modify your movements during an episode of back pain to avoid flaring pain symptoms while continuing to be active.
Procedures used to treat back pain may include:
A number of alternative treatments might ease symptoms of back pain. Always discuss the benefits and risks with your doctor before starting a new alternative therapy.
If your back pain persists despite home treatment, see your doctor. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
Make a list of:
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you receive.
For back pain, questions to ask your doctor include:
Your doctor is likely to ask you questions, including: