Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Back problems are incredibly common. In fact, nearly 65 million Americans report a recent episode of back pain. Additionally, some 16 million adults suffer from chronic (persistent) back pain. As a result, it can often limit a person’s everyday activities and impact their quality of life.  In the following post, we’ll discuss some of back pain’s most common causes, symptoms, and treatments. Read on to learn more.

What are the common causes of back pain?

The human back is very complex, made up of muscles, tendons, ligaments, disks, and bones. They all work together to support our bodies and help us to move. Unfortunately, one problem with any of these pieces can lead to back pain. Here are just a few of the most common causes:

Accidents and injuries

Things like sprains, strains, fractures, and spasms can cause back problems. Examples of activities that can lead to these include car accidents, sports injuries, lifting something too heavy, lifting something improperly, or making a quick, awkward, or unnatural movement.

Disk-related issues

Our spines are made up of a series of bones called vertebrae. Between each, lies round cushions called disks that essentially work as shock absorbers. Sometimes, one of those disks bulges out (bulging disk) or slips out (herniated disk or slipped disk) causing a sharp, shooting pain down the buttock and down the back of the leg. This condition is known as sciatica. Additionally, a disk can even rupture or simply wear down over time (degenerative disk). Any of these things can add pressure to the nerve and result in back problems.

Arthritis and osteoporosis

As we age, our bones, including the vertebrae of the spine, become brittle and porous. This condition is called osteoporosis. Osteoporosis also makes compression fractures more likely. This condition is called osteoporosis. Additionally, osteoarthritis in the spine can even lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, a condition known as spinal stenosis. All these conditions can cause back pain.

Lifestyle triggers

Things you do – or don’t do – in your everyday life can also trigger pain and inflammation in your back. For example, bad posture, like hunching over a computer or bending your neck forward when driving a car can cause it. Lifting heavy objects, lifting objects incorrectly, or repeated movements could also make your back hurt. Back issues can even be caused by things like being overweight, smoking, wearing high heels, not exercising, or sleeping on a mattress that doesn’t properly support your body.

Other conditions

Other conditions such as pregnancy, scoliosis (curvature of the spine), tumors, kidney stones, endometriosis, or fibromyalgia can also cause your back to hurt.

What are the common symptoms of back pain?

Pain in the back can range from mild physical discomfort to disabling. Symptoms can include an aching, shooting, burning, or stabbing sensation and may worsen with activity or certain movements. The pain can even spread down into one’s buttocks or legs. Here are some of the most common symptoms often associated with pain in the back:

  • Fever
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Inflammation or swelling on the back
  • Pain down the legs, even below the knees
  • Bladder problems, including trouble controlling the bladder (urinary incontinence) or difficulty urinating
  • Loss of control over bowel movements (fecal incontinence)
  • Numbness or tingling around the genitals, anus, and/or buttocks

Additionally, the pain can be:

  • Acute: Occurs suddenly and lasts only a few days to a few weeks)
  • Subacute: Comes on suddenly or over time and typically lasts 4 to 12 weeks
  • Chronic: May come on quickly or slowly and lasts longer than 12 weeks

How is back pain diagnosed?

In order to determine a proper treatment plan, your doctor must first find the root cause of your pain. First, your doctor will perform an exam, assessing your back and ability to stand, sit, walk, and make certain movements. They may also ask you to rate your pain on a scale. Additionally, he or she may request tests such as x-rays, MRI, CT scans, blood tests, nerve studies, etc., to help provide an accurate diagnosis.

How is back pain treated?

After your pain is diagnosed, your doctor will work with you to determine a treatment plan. Often, the pain gets better within a month of home treatment. However, each patient is unique and may need further medical treatment. Here are some of the most common treatments:

  • Home treatment. Over-the-counter pain relief medications, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs), like ibuprofen, often help to reduce back pain. Additionally, an ice pack or hot compress can help relieve pain and inflammation. Resting following strenuous activity may help. However, it is important to stay active in order to help ease stiffness, pain, and muscle weakness.
  • Physical therapy. A physical therapist can show you exercises to help increase your mobility, strengthen your back and the supporting muscles in your abdomen, and improve your posture. Also, they can provide education on how to move when your back hurts to help avoid making the pain worse while remaining active.
  • Nonsurgical procedures. If your pain persists, your doctor may recommend a back pain injection. Epidural steroid injections (ESIs) are commonly used to treat back pain. ESIs involve injecting a mixture of cortisone (anti-inflammatory) and an anesthetic numbing agent (lidocaine) into a patient’s epidural space around the spinal cord. Additionally, radiofrequency neurotomy, also known as radiofrequency ablation, may be used. During this procedure, a physician inserts a fine needle near the site of pain. Then, radio waves pass through the needle to damage nerves nearby, which temporarily turns off their ability to send pain signals.
  • Surgical procedures. If your pain continues, your doctor may suggest surgery as a last resort. Surgery is typically reserved for pain related to structural issues, like the narrowing of the spine (spinal stenosis), herniated disk, or compression fractures, that haven’t improved with other treatments.

When should I talk to a doctor? 

As always, you should consult with a doctor as soon as possible about any minor or severe, and/or prolonged pain you are experiencing. This will help ensure you receive the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Advanced Ortho & Spine can help. 

At Advanced Ortho and Spine (AOS), we’ve cared for many patients with back pain. Most are quickly able to get back to living their best lives with conservative treatment. Dr. James Eby, Dr. Tarek Elalayli, and Dr. Mitul Patel at AOS specialize in treating a variety of orthopaedic conditions, including back pain. Request an appointment online or call us at 615.885.0200 to schedule yours today.

Dr. James Eby is a board-certified physiatrist and non-operative spine specialist who is an expert at treating a full range of spinal conditions. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. 






Dr. Tarek Elalayli is a board-certified orthopaedic spine surgeon, who specializes in treating a full range of spinal conditions. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. 






Mitul Patel, MD is a board-certified orthopaedic spine surgeon, who specializes in treating a full range of spinal conditions. Contact us today for more information or to request an appointment. 






With two locations near Nashville in Mt. Juliet and Hermitage, Advanced Ortho and Spine provides patients with high-quality, personalized care while advancing orthopaedic excellence. Contact us today to learn more or to schedule your appointment.

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