Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Back Pain Symptoms

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Nearly four out of five people suffer from this painful condition some time in their lives.

Most people suffer from back pain at some time in their lives, most commonly in the lower back.

Lower back pain is affecting the lower portion of the spine. It is also called lumbago.

Your doctor may have difficulty diagnosing the cause of your backache since there are many back pain causes, some not due to problems with the back itself.

Causes of Back Pain

Main Causes of back pain include:

  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Spasms
  • Disc herniation (disc-related problems)
  • Osteoarthritis (osteoporosis)
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylosis
  • Scoliosis
  • Sciatica
  • Traumatic injury
  • Facet joint pain
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Congenital defects and deformities
  • Referred pain (from problems with kidneys, uterus, stomach or pancreas).

There may be physical causes of back pain, such as muscle strain (muscle spasm), herniated disc and disc-related problems, facet joint pain, traumatic injury, sciatica, scoliosis, lordosis and kyphosis, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, spondylolysis or spondylolisthesis.

Work-related and accidental back injuries may be difficult to avoid. These can lead to partial or total disability, overwhelming medical expenses, and costly workers’ compensation benefits.

But even though you may have injured your back, you can still find relief from back pain through various treatments and exercise, and by heeding advice from professionals on how to avoid further injury.

Sometimes there are psychological factors, as well as ‘referred pain’, which can be due to problems with organs located close to the lower back, such as the kidneys, uterus, stomach or pancreas.

Kidney stones can cause intermittent lower back pain. Nausea and a kidney infection can cause severe low back pain, discolored urine, and fever. Drink plenty of water and see your doctor as soon as possible.

Since the nerves that serve the female reproductive organs come from the lower area of the spine, women can suffer lower back pain when problems arise with these organs.

Menstrual pain and uterine cramps are a cause of back pain (backache) that can be quite debilitating. Rest, gentle exercise and heat will bring relief.

Back pain diagnosis

Most of the time, a physical examination is sufficient.

The doctor will probably ask you to

  • walk
  • sit
  • bend over
  • bend sideways
  • lie face down on an examination table
  • check your reflexes
  • leg strength
  • tapping the back to find areas of muscle spasming and referred pain.

If your doctor suspects a serious condition like fracture, tumor or some disease, the doctor might order other tests, including:

  • X-rays for back pain diagnosis: Fractures of the vertebrae, osteoporosis, and arthritis, as well as congenital deformities, can be diagnosed using x-rays.
  • CAT (or CT) scan: A CAT scan can detect almost any condition – fracture, herniated disc, tumors, bone disease, congenital problems, and many others.
  • MRI scan for detailed cross-sectional images of bone and soft tissues.
  • Bone scan for detecting abnormalities in the bone tissue, Stress fracture, bone cancer, or infection (osteomyelitis).
  • Electromyography (EMG) to test muscle and nerve activity.

Back pain treatment


In most cases, Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen, naproxen are sufficient. You should always consult with the doctor before taking any medicine.

Topical rubs and ointments are also effective at instant relief from pain.

Physical Therapies

Physiatrists are physical medicine and rehabilitation (PMR) specialists. They treat lower back pain with physical therapies such as exercise and stretching, epidural steroid injections, selective nerve block, IntraDiscal Electrothermal Therapy (IDET ).

They use as well as other non-surgical options such as massage therapy, heat/ice therapy, TENS units, and prescription drugs.

They are also qualified to order diagnostic tests (CT myelogram, MRI, x-ray, and bone scans) and can interpret the results.


Surgery can sometimes prevent paralysis. It can often offer immediate relief from severe back pain.

Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons are Medical Doctors or Doctors of Osteopathy. They are highly trained in the use of surgery to correct back problems.

They generally perform the same types of spinal surgery. Orthopedic surgeons and neurosurgeons do specialize in certain areas.

Orthopedic surgeons operate to correct spinal deformities and neurosurgeons operate on tumors close to the spinal cord.

Recent improvements in surgical techniques have led to a higher success rate and less post-op pain and faster healing.