Lower back pain is very common. It can result from a strain (injury) to muscles or tendons in the back. Other causes include arthritis, structural problems and disk injuries. Pain often gets better with rest, physical therapy and medication. Reduce your risk of low back pain by keeping at a healthy weight and staying active.
Low back pain can result from many different injuries, conditions or diseases — most often, an injury to muscles or tendons in the back.
Pain can range from mild to severe. In some cases, pain can make it difficult or impossible to walk, sleep, work or do everyday activities.
Usually, lower back pain gets better with rest, pain relievers and physical therapy (PT). Cortisone injections and hands-on treatments (like osteopathic or chiropractic manipulation) can relieve pain and help the healing process. Some back injuries and conditions require surgical repair.
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Around four out of five people have lower back pain at some point in their lives. It’s one of the most common reasons people visit healthcare providers.
Some people are more likely to have lower back pain than others. Risk factors for lower back pain include:
Symptoms of lower back pain can come on suddenly or appear gradually. Sometimes, pain occurs after a specific event, such as bending to pick something up. Other times, you may not know what caused the pain.
Pain may be sharp or dull and achy, and it may radiate to your bottom or down the back of your legs (sciatica). If you strain your back during an activity, you may hear a “pop” when it happened. Pain is often worse in certain positions (like bending over) and gets better when you lie down.
Other symptoms of lower back pain include:
Many injuries, conditions and diseases can cause lower back pain. They include:
Your provider will ask about your symptoms and do a physical exam. To check for broken bones or other damage, your provider may order imaging studies. These studies help your provider see clear pictures of your vertebrae, disks, muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Your provider may order:
Lower back pain usually gets better with rest, ice and over-the-counter pain relievers. After a few days of rest, you can start to get back to your normal activities. Staying active increases blood flow to the area and helps you heal.
Other treatments for lower back pain depend on the cause. They include:
You can’t prevent lower back pain that results from disease or structural problems in the spine. But you can avoid injuries that cause back pain.
To reduce your risk of a back injury, you should:
The outlook depends on the cause of pain. Most people with back strains and sprains recover and do not have long-term health issues. But many people will have another episode within a year.
Some people have chronic back pain that doesn’t get better after several weeks. Older people with degenerative conditions such as arthritis and osteoporosis may have symptoms that get worse over time. Surgery and other treatments are effective at helping people with a range of injuries and conditions live pain-free.
Lower back pain usually gets better with rest and pain relievers. Back pain that doesn’t go away may be a sign of a more serious condition.
See your provider if you have:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Millions of people live with low back pain. Stiffness, pain and limited movement can have a major impact on quality of life. But you may be able to avoid lower back pain by maintaining a healthy weight and staying active. Talk to your provider if back pain doesn’t go away or if you’re unable to do the activities you enjoy. Several treatments can relieve pain, help you move better and get more out of life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/18/2021.
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