Don't Panic

There are many different reasons why your back might hurt, but the vast majority will not cause any lasting problems and will resolve completely. The important thing to do is to try and understand what is causing your pain and take steps to reduce it. In many cases, a little rest and a return to activities is the best approach.

Muscle Strain

This is probably the most common cause of pain for most people. Sometimes it is associated with a certain activity and people remember doing something to hurt it, and sometimes it may not be associated with a particular incident.

A strain occurs when the work the muscle is asked to do exceeds the capacity of the muscle to handle that work. This can cause some minor to moderate damage to the muscle. Strain injuries often cause a great deal of pain which is localized to a particular area of the back. Other muscles in the area or on the opposite side will try to compensate for the damaged muscle resulting in muscle spasm which can create pain in a different area.

Treatment: The treatment for muscle strains often involves resting the area that was injured, but allowing the adjacent areas to resume normal (or close to normal) function. This can be done with stretching and mobilization exercises. In some cases, it may be helpful to wear a back brace to help support and protect the area. We need to be mindful to not wear the brace too much which can lead to weakening of many muscles.

Joint Irritation

Joint pain can occur when the ends of the vertebrae (bones in your spine) press too hard against each other. This can be caused by poor posture and poor movement patterns. Over a long period of time, the wear and tear can contribute to arthritic changes and joint damage.

Disc inflammation is another type of joint pain. The disc lies in between the vertebrae, bending and twisting can irritate the disc with little tears. The tears can add up and cause swelling and inflammation. If the disc develops too much swelling and inflammation, it can lead to a condition called sciatica. It is possible to have a disc problem without sciatica and this can sometimes be attributed to a simple muscle strain.

Treatment: Movement helps to improve the health of the joints. Avoid the positions which are contributing to the irritation. Temporarily wearing a lumbar brace may be beneficial which can allow the inflamed area to recover. Wearing the brace too much can lead to weakened muscles and further irritation.


Sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed. This compression commonly occurs from a disc in your lower back, but can also (less frequently) occur because of pressure from a muscle in the back of your hip.

People sometimes refer to this kind of disc injury as a "slipped disc". This is not an accurate description of the process. A simple description is that the disc can develop a little swelling. If that swelling is in a certain location and of a certain size it can create some pain for the patient. The pain s due to inflammation of the disc tissue. If the swelling is large enough, it can push on the nerves from your back that form the sciatic nerve. The pressure on the nerve can cause pain where the nerve goes and also result in numbness, tingling, ache/cramping, and eventually weakness.

The primary goal with this condition is to reduce the symptoms and try to reverse the swelling. For most cases, extending the back will be the most helpful tool. This helps to migrate the disc material away from the nerve and reduce the symptoms down the leg.


Shingles is a rare condition caused by the Chicken Pox virus. One of the key indications that back pain is coming from shingles is redness and vesicles in the area of pain. Unfortunately, the pain can sometimes show up before the redness and vesicles. In this case, the nerves are being irritated by the virus, but the joints and muscles are often sparred. If your pain is reduced with movement but feels worth sitting still, then a diagnosis of shingles or some other type of referred pain should be near the top of the list.

Referred Pain

There are many different reasons why you are feeling pain in your back, but there is no problem with your back. These cases are rare. If your pain is made worse with movement, especially bending, then the pain source is most likely musculoskeletal and in your back. If your pain is worse with laying still and movement relieves your pain and your range of motion is normal, then you may be experiencing referred pain. If you are experiencing referred pain you should consult your physician. Some of the causes for referred pain include kidney stones, gall bladder or liver problems, vascular problems including the heart and aorta, endometriosis as well as other conditions.

Treatment: It is important to identify the primary cause for your pain.