Low back pain refers to a shooting or stabbing pain felt in your lower back. You may also have back stiffness, decreased movement of the lower back, and difficulty standing straight.
Acute back pain lasts from a few days to a few weeks.
If you are like most people, you will have at least one backache in your life. While such pain or discomfort can happen anywhere in your back, the most common area affected is your low back. This is because the low back supports most of your body's weight.
Low back pain is the number two reason that Americans see their doctor -- second only to colds and flus. Many back-related injuries happen at work. But you can change that. There are many things you can do to lower your chances of getting back pain.
You'll usually first feel back pain just after you lift a heavy object, move suddenly, sit in one position for a long time, or have an injury or accident. But before that injury or accident, the structures in your back were losing strength or changing.
Acute low back pain is most often caused by a sudden injury to the muscles, ligaments, bones, and nerves in the spine. The source of the pain may be:
Back pain may also be due to:
You may feel a variety of symptoms if you've hurt your back. You may have a tingling or burning sensation, a dull achy feeling, or sharp pain. Depending on the cause, you also may have weakness in your legs or feet.
Low back pain can vary widely. The pain may be mild, or it can be so severe that you are unable to move.
Depending on the cause of your back pain, you may also have pain in your leg, hip, or bottom of your foot. See: Sciatica
When you first see your doctor, you will be asked questions about your back pain, including how often it occurs and how severe it is. Your doctor will try to determine the cause of your back pain and whether it is likely to quickly get better with simple measures such as ice, mild painkillers, physical therapy, and proper exercises. Most of the time, back pain will get better using these approaches.
Questions will include:
During the physical exam, your doctor will try to pinpoint the location of the pain and figure out how it affects your movement. You will be asked to:
Your doctor will also move your legs into different positions, including bending and straightening your knees. All the while, the doctor is assessing your strength as well as your ability to move.
To test nerve function, the doctor will use a rubber hammer to check your reflexes. Touching your legs in many locations with a pin, cotton swab, or feather tests your sensory nervous system (how well you feel). Your doctor will ask you to speak up if there are areas where the sensation from the pin, cotton, or feather is duller.
Most people with back pain recover within 4 - 6 weeks. Therefore, your doctor will probably not order any tests during the first visit. However, if you have any of the symptoms or circumstances below, your doctor may order imaging tests even at this initial exam:
In these cases, the doctor is looking for a tumor, infection, fracture, or serious nerve disorder. The symptoms above are clues that one of these conditions may be present. The presence of a tumor, infection, fracture, or serious nerve disorder will change how your back pain is treated.
Tests that might be ordered include an x-ray, CT scan of the lower spine, or MRI of the lower spine.
Hospitalization, traction,or spinal surgery should only be considered if nerve damage is present or the condition fails to heal after a prolonged period.
Many people benefit from physical therapy. Your doctor will determine whether you need to see a physical therapist and can refer you to one in your area. The physical therapist will begin by using methods to reduce your pain. Then, the therapist will teach you ways to prevent getting back pain again.
If your pain lasts longer than one month, your primary care doctor may send you to see either an orthopedist (bone specialist) or neurologist (nerve specialist).
To get better quickly, take the right steps when you first get pain.
Here are some tips for how to handle pain early on:
A common misbelief about back pain is that you need to rest and avoid activity for a long time. In fact, bed rest is NOT recommended.
You may want to reduce your activity only for the first couple of days. Then, slowly start your usual activities after that. Do not perform activities that involve heavy lifting or twisting of your back for the first 6 weeks after the pain begins. After 2 - 3 weeks, you should gradually resume exercise.
AVOID the following exercises during initial recovery unless your doctor or physical therapist says it is okay:
Many people will feel better within 1 week after the start of back pain. After another 4 - 6 weeks, the back pain will likely be completely gone.
Call your doctor right away if you have:
Also call if:
See: Taking care of your back at home
Backache; Low back pain; Lumbar pain; Pain - back; Acute back pain; Back pain - new; Back pain - short-term