The pain can be achy or sharp in nature. It is usually localized in the low back and can be associated with difficulty doing everyday tasks. Stress on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine produce strain on tissues causing the back pain. There can be other, more serious causes.
If a nerve is irritated, the pain may extend into the buttock or leg on the affected side, and weakness or numbness may be present.
Other symptoms may include burning, tingling, or a shooting pain down the back of one leg. This is often called sciatica. However, the nerve involved is usually a spinal nerve, and only occasionally the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is known by many other medical terms, such as lumbosacral radicular pain or radiculopathy.
Sciatic Nerve Pain
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More serious symptoms associated with back pain that may require immediate medical attention include:
Acute low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114958/Acute-low-back-pain. Updated August 12, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
Chronic low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116935/Chronic-low-back-pain Updated August 18, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
Della-Giustina D. Evaluation and treatment of acute back pain in the emergency department. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2015;33(2):311-326.
Konstantinou K, Dunn KM. Sciatica: review of epidemiological studies and prevalence estimates. Spine. 33(22):2464-2472, 2008 Oct 15.
Pain. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at:
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Updated November 3, 2015. Accessed December 16, 2015.
Sciatica. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115166/Sciatica. Updated February 8, 2016. Accessed October 4, 2016.
Violante FS, Mattioli S, Bonfiglioli R. Low back pain. Handb Clin Neurol. 2015;131:397-410.
Winters ME, Kluetz P, Zilberstein J. Back Pain Emergencies. Medical Clinics of North America. Volume 90, Issue 3 (May 2006)
Last reviewed December 2015 by Laura Lei-Rivera, DPT
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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