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 the sciatic or other 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.
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More serious symptoms associated with back pain that may require immediate medical attention include:
- Pain that does not subside or worsens with rest
- Pain that is worse when you are reclined
- Pain that is sudden, severe, or that has gotten dramatically worse
- Progressive weakness or numbness in a leg or foot
- Difficulty walking, standing, or moving
- Numbness in the genital or rectal area
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Burning or difficulty with urination
- Fever, unexplained weight loss, or other signs of illness
- If there has been any trauma, fall, or impact
- If you have a history of cancer, back pain should be evaluated
Acute low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114958/Acute-low-back-pain. Updated October 25, 2017. Accessed December 27, 2017.
Chronic low back pain. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116935/Chronic-low-back-pain. Updated June 30, 2017. Accessed December 27, 2017.
Della-Giustina D. Evaluation and treatment of acute back pain in the emergency department. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2015;33(2):311-326.
Low back pain. Ortho Info—American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/low-back-pain. Updated December 2013. Accessed December 27, 2017.
Sciatica. Cleveland clinic website. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12792-sciatica. Updated July 22, 2014. Accessed December 27, 2017.
Sciatica. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115166/Sciatica. Updated May 8, 2017. Accessed December 27, 2017.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael Woods, MD, FAAP Last Updated: 12/27/2017