Acute mechanical back pain is pain mostly in the lower back that sometimes radiates to the buttocks and thighs. It’s common, and most people recover quickly with simple treatments. There are multiple possible causes to blame, but 80% of the time the cause is unknown.
Acute mechanical back pain is a common medical problem. Acute pain is pain that has been present in your back for less than four to six weeks. Mechanical means that the source of the pain may be in your spinal joints, discs, vertebrae, or soft tissues. Acute mechanical back pain may also be called acute low back pain, lumbago, idiopathic low back pain, lumbosacral strain or sprain, or lumbar syndrome.
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A precise cause of your acute mechanical back pain can be identified only 20% of the time. Sometimes, a specific accident or hard activity may cause the pain you’re feeling. However, 80% of the time, the specific source of the pain is not found. Fortunately most people recover in a relatively short period of time with simple treatment.
Mechanical back pain implies the source of pain is in the spine and/or its supporting structure. The surrounding muscles and ligaments may develop reactive spasm and pain.
Most people with mechanical back pain experience pain primarily in their lower back. The pain may radiate (spread) to your buttocks and thighs. Many people may also experience spasms with mechanical back pain. The symptoms of mechanical back pain are generally more noticeable with flexion of the back and when lifting heavy objects.
A careful evaluation of your medical history and a physical examination will help your healthcare provider determine if you have mechanical back pain. He or she will then work with you to create an appropriate treatment plan.
If your healthcare provider has determined your back pain is mechanical, additional testing is not usually necessary. If your symptoms or the examination suggest the possibility of infection, malignancy, or a pinched nerve, additional tests may be done. Additional testing may include blood tests, x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and/or nerve conduction studies.
Non-surgical treatment with limited rest and over the counter pain relievers is sufficient treatment for most patients like you. In some people, a supervised physical therapy program for ongoing mechanical pain may be recommended. Talk to your healthcare provider to see which treatment is right for you.
The prognosis for complete recovery is excellent. Most people with acute mechanical back pain respond very rapidly to treatment. About 90% of people with acute low back pain are symptom-free in one to two weeks. Many of the remaining estimated 10% recover within three months.
Recurrences of back pain are common. Continuing your home exercise program may help reduce your risk of another episode.
It’s usually recommend that you return to work right away. If you cannot do your regular job, it is in your best interest to return to some kind of modified duty (light or restricted duty). Your healthcare provider can give you a prescription for a limited period of modified work duty.
It is very common to be afraid to promptly return to work and other activities because of fear of re-injury. However, if you are receiving proper treatment, your risk of re-injury should be limited. It is in your best interest to return to a normal lifestyle promptly. Early mobility has been found to directly result in a more rapid recovery. Maintaining a positive mental attitude is also imperative to a quick recovery.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/22/2020.
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