What is back pain?

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the United States. It might feel like a dull, constant ache or a sudden, sharp pain. Back pain can result from:

  • An accident.
  • A fall.
  • Lifting something heavy.
  • Changes that happen in the spine as you age.
  • A disorder or medical condition.

Treatment depends on the cause and symptoms of your pain. You can do things to improve your health and lower your chance of developing chronic (long-lasting) back pain.

Who gets back pain?

Anyone can have back pain. You may be more likely to have back pain because of the following:  

  • Fitness level: Back pain is more common among people who are out of shape. You may also get back pain if you exercise too hard after not being active for a while.
  • Obesity: If you are overweight or obese, it can put stress on the back and cause pain.
  • Job-related risk factors: Jobs that require heavy lifting, pushing, pulling, or twisting can injure the back. A desk job may also play a role, especially if you slouch or sit all day in an uncomfortable chair.
  • Stress level: If you often have poor sleep, depression, or anxiety, back pain can be more frequent and more severe.
  • Age: You may have more back pain as you get older, particularly after you turn 45.
  • Family history: Your genes play a role in some disorders that cause back pain.

What are the types of back pain?

You may feel back pain that happens suddenly and lasts a few days to a few weeks, or you may have back pain that lasts longer, such as 4 to 12 weeks or more.

What are the symptoms of back pain?

Your back may hurt in one specific part or it may spread all over your back. It also can cause pain in other areas, such as the:

  • Buttocks.
  • Legs.
  • Abdomen.

Depending on the type, cause, and location, your back pain may get worse when:

  • Lifting and bending.
  • Resting.
  • Sitting.
  • Standing.

It may come and go. You also may feel stiffness in the morning when you wake up, and the pain may get better as you move around.

You should see a doctor if your pain does not get better after a few weeks or if any of the following symptoms happen with your back pain:

  • Numbness and tingling.
  • Very bad back pain that does not get better with medication (see Treatment section).
  • Back pain after a fall or injury.
  • Back pain along with:
    • Trouble urinating.
    • Weakness, pain, or numbness in your legs.
    • Fever.
    • Weight loss that you did not intend.

What causes back pain?

Many different things may cause back pain, such as physical problems with the back. For example:

Other medical conditions can cause back pain, including:

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