Your spine is a column of more than 30 bones (vertebrae) held together by muscles, tendons and ligaments and cushioned by shock-absorbing disks. A problem in any part of your spine can cause back pain. For some people, back pain is simply an annoyance. For others, it can be both excruciating and disabling.
Most back pain — even severe back pain — goes away on its own in two to four weeks. Surgery is rarely needed for back pain and is generally considered only as a last resort.
Most back pain gets better within a few weeks without treatment. If you're very uncomfortable, you can rest in bed for a day or two, but longer than that does more harm than good. Over-the-counter pain medications often help reduce back pain, as does the application of cold or heat to the painful area.
Schedule an office visit
Call your doctor if your back pain hasn't improved at all after three days of home treatment or if your back pain:
- Is constant or intense, especially at night or when you lie down
- Spreads down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below your knee
- Causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs
- Occurs with unintended weight loss
- Occurs with swelling or redness on your back
Seek emergency medical care
Call 911 or emergency medical help or have someone drive you to the emergency room if your back pain:
- Occurs after a high-impact car crash, bad fall or sports injury
- Causes new bowel or bladder control problems
- Occurs with a fever
Sept. 11, 2012
- Low back pain fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm. Accessed July 15, 2012.
- Adult acute and subacute low back pain. Bloomington, Minn.: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. http://www.icsi.org/low_back_pain/adult_low_back_pain__8.html. Accessed July 10, 2012.
- Balague F, et al. Non-specific low back pain. The Lancet. 2012;379:482.
- Wheeler SG, et al. Approach to the diagnosis and evaluation of low back pain in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/index. Accessed July 14, 2012.
- Duffy RL. Low back pain: An approach to diagnosis and management. Primary Care Clinics Office Practice. 2010;37:729.