Symptoms and Signs of Low Back Pain

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/4/2022

Doctor's Notes on Low Back Pain

Low back pain is pain usually located in the lumbar section of the spine. It is a symptom that may occur from many different processes. It's frequently intermittent, and 85% of people with it will have no specific cause identified. Besides pain, other symptoms and signs of low back pain include

  • radiating of pain down the front,
  • side or back of your leg and may become worse with activity.
  • Numbness and/or weakness of a leg may accompany the pain symptoms.

Common causes of low back pain include

  • disease (for example, shingles, but infections, fibromyalgia, spondylitis) or
  • injury to the muscles, bones, and/or nerves in the lumbar spine that damage or compress nerves.

A common cause of compression or nerve injury is a herniated lumbar disc that pinches or compresses a nerve that extends to your leg.

  • Spinal stenosis can cause back pain and pain down both legs.
  • Cauda equina syndrome, where the lower spinal cord is compressed, beside pain production, can produce signs and symptoms of possible loss of sensation and/or the inability to control bowel and bladder functions. The syndrome is a medical emergency.

What Are the Treatments for Low Back Pain?

Most doctors may utilize the following treatments for low back pain depending on the emergency underlying causes (if known or not) and the type of pain:

  • Medications
    • Over-the-counter NSAIDs
    • Prescription NSAIDs
    • Muscle relaxants
    • Topical (creams, salves, ointments) pain relievers
    • Antidepressants
    • Narcotics (short term, not for chronic pain)
  • Physical therapy: modify movements for pain reduction
  • Procedures and/or surgery
    • Cortisone injections: anti-inflammatory
    • Radiofrequency neurotomy: damage to pain-conductive nerves
    • Implanted nerve stimulators: block nerve pain signals
    • Surgery
    • Nerve decompression
    • Spinal decompression
    • Herniated disc surgery

You and your doctors should discuss what therapy is best for your individual low back pain problem. If you have low back pain and sudden loss of bowel and/or bladder control, this may signal a medical emergency. Go to an emergency center.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.