Low back pain is common. Almost everyone has back pain at some time in their life. Often, the exact cause of the pain cannot be found.
Low back pain that is long-term is called chronic low back pain.
Nonspecific back pain; Backache - chronic; Lumbar pain - chronic; Pain - back - chronic; Chronic back pain - low
A single event may not have caused your pain. You may have been doing many activities, such as lifting the wrong way, for a long time. Then suddenly, one simple movement, such as reaching for something or bending from your waist, leads to pain.
Many people with chronic back pain have arthritis. Or they may have extra wear and tear of the spine, which may be due to:
Heavy use from work or sports
Injuries or fractures
You may have had a herniated disk, in which part of the spinal disk pushed onto nearby nerves. Normally, the disks provide space and cushion in your spine. If these disks dry out and become thinner and more brittle, you can lose movement in the spine over time.
If the spaces between the spinal nerves and spinal cord become narrowed, this can lead to spinal stenosis. These problems are called degenerative joint or spine disease.
Other possible causes of chronic low back pain include:
Your back pain may not go away completely, or it may get more painful at times. Learn to take care of your back at home and how to prevent repeat episodes of back pain. This can help you continue with your normal activities.
Your doctor may recommend measures to reduce your pain, including:
A back brace to support your back
Cold packs and heat therapy
Physical therapy, involving stretching and strengthening exercises
Counseling, to learn ways to understand and manage your pain
These health care providers can also help:
Someone who performs acupuncture
Someone who does spinal manipulation (a chiropractor, osteopathic physician, or physical therapist)
If needed, your doctor may prescribe medicines to help with your back pain:
Aspirin, naproxen (Aleve), or ibuprofen (Advil), which you can buy without a prescription
Low doses of prescription medicines
Narcotics or opioids when the pain is severe
If your pain does not improve with medicine, physical therapy, and other treatments, your doctor may recommend an epidural injection.
Spinal surgery is considered only if you have nerve damage or the cause of the back pain does not heal after a long time.
In some patients, a spinal cord stimulator can help reduce back pain.
Other treatments that may be recommended if your pain does not improve with medicine and physical therapy include:
Spinal surgery, only if you have nerve damage or the cause of your pain does not heal after a long time
Spinal cord stimulation, in which a small device sends electric current to the spine to block pain signals
Some people with low back pain may also need:
Most back problems get better on their own. Follow your health care provider's advice on treatment and self-care measures.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have severe back pain that does not go away. Call right away if you have numbness, loss of movement, weakness, or bowel or bladder changes.
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Luc Jasmin, MD, PhD, FRCS (C), FACS, Department of Neurosurgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles CA; Department of Surgery at Los Robles Hospital, Thousand Oaks CA; Department of Surgery at Ashland Community Hospital, Ashland OR; Department of Surgery at Cheyenne Regional Medical Center, Cheyenne WY; Department of Anatomy at UCSF, San Francisco CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.