Eighty-five to 90% of people develop some back pain during their lifetime. Of this group, 95% get better in 6 to 12 weeks.

Acute back pain may be related to several common conditions, such as degenerative arthritis, degenerative disk disease, spinal canal stenosis, muscular pain/ligament strain, or sciatica. Often, the pain is caused by a combination of these conditions.

What should I do if I have back pain?

Most people diagnose their own back pain based on previous experience, and treat the pain with over-the-counter medications and rest. Families, friends and neighbors are also a source of information. However, it is important to realize that everyone is different and it is never safe to take someone else's medication. Always contact your health care provider before taking any medication that is not prescribed specifically for you.

There are circumstances when you should seek immediate medical attention for back pain. These include:

  • Severe back pain
  • Radiating pain into your legs
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence
  • Leg weakness
  • Persistent fever
  • Color changes in legs or feet

For severe pain or pain that lasts more than one week, contact your doctor. He or she will review your medical history, examine you, and then organize a plan for diagnosis and management.

Back pain diagnosis may include tests such as X-rays, MRI scans, and EMG testing. In some cases treatment of the symptoms of back pain can go ahead without these tests.

Treatment of acute back pain during this time is designed to reduce pain, relieve muscle spasms, improve sleep (which is often disrupted by back pain), and employ conditioning measures to improve the overall health of the back.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 11/01/2016.


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