Understanding back pain

Almost everyone suffers from back pain at some point in their lives. In fact, it’s one of the most common problems your doctor sees. Back pain happens more frequently as we age, although lower back pain can start between ages 30 to 40.

Patient showing back pain

What are the symptoms of back pain?

The symptoms of back pain can be all-too-familiar and range from:

  • Dull pain
  • Constant aching
  • Sudden sharp pain that leaves you incapacitated
  • Lower back pain
  • Upper back pain

What are the causes of back pain?

Unfortunately, the older we get the more likely we are to suffer from back pain. Some of the causes are:


  • Injuries/sprains
  • Inactivity
  • Being overweight
  • Mechanical problems – the way your spine moves
  • Heavy manual labor

Certain type of medical conditions can also cause back pain:

  • Some inflammatory conditions
  • Infections
  • Scoliosis

When should I see my doctor?

Doctor talking with male patient

You should see your doctor if you have noticed any one of the following:

  • Numbness or tingling
  • Severe pain that doesn’t improve with medication and rest
  • Pain after a fall or an injury
  • Pain with any of the following symptoms: trouble urinating; weakness, pain or numbness in your legs; fever; or unintentional weight loss

What treatments are available for back pain?


Before treatment

Your doctor will ask you a series of questions to find out your medical history to see if there are any lower back causes that run in your family. some questions may be:

  • What does the pain feel like? Is it dull, sharp, throbbing, or burning? How long does it last?
  • When did the pain begin? Did is start suddenly?
  • If you have had back pain before, is this pain similar or different? In what was is it different?
  • Do you feel the pain anywhere else, such as in your hip, thigh, leg, or feet?
  • What makes the pain worse? Lifting, twisting, standing, or sitting for long periods?

Once you’re diagnosed

Your back pain can be treated in a number of ways. Treatment is largely dependent on the type and location of the pain. You can ask your doctor to recommend upper or lower back exercises in addition to other treatments to help manage your pain. Your doctor may recommend one of the following for back pain relief:

  • Nonsteroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – these include topical NSAIDs such as diclofenac gel as well as the ones you take by mouth such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Heating pads or cold packs
  • Exercise
  • Acetaminophen
  • Prescription pain relievers

Lifestyle tips for back pain

  • Staying fit is one of the most important things you can do to prevent future back pain, as strengthening weak muscles will help support your back
  • Eat a healthy diet, rich in calcium and Vitamin D to keep your bones strong and healthy. Strong bones can support your muscles
  • Practice good posture
  • Avoid heavy lifting or if you have to lift something heavy, keep your back straight and don’t bend over
  • If you smoke, speak to your doctor about how to quit – smoking reduces bone mass and can lead to osteoporosis, which can lead to further back pain

Always consult with your physician before starting a new exercise regimen or routine.