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Back pain – Symptoms and causes

Overview

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people go to the doctor or miss work, and it is a leading cause of disability worldwide.

Fortunately, you can take measures to prevent or relieve most back pain episodes. If prevention fails, simple home treatment and proper body mechanics often will heal your back within a few weeks and keep it functional. Surgery is rarely needed to treat back pain.

Symptoms

Back pain can range from a muscle aching to a shooting, burning or stabbing sensation. In addition, the pain may radiate down your leg or worsen with bending, twisting, lifting, standing or walking.

When to see a doctor

Most back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, usually within a few weeks. Contact your doctor if your back pain:

In rare cases, back pain can signal a serious medical problem. Seek immediate care if your back pain:

Causes

Low back pain caused by spinal degeneration and injury.

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Back pain often develops without a cause that your doctor can identify with a test or an imaging study. Conditions commonly linked to back pain include:

Risk factors

Anyone can develop back pain, even children and teens. These factors might put you at greater risk of developing back pain:

Prevention

You might avoid back pain or prevent its recurrence by improving your physical condition and learning and practicing proper body mechanics.

To keep your back healthy and strong:

Avoid movements that twist or strain your back. Use your body properly:

Buyer beware

Because back pain is so common, numerous products promise prevention or relief. But there’s no definitive evidence that special shoes, shoe inserts, back supports, specially designed furniture or stress management programs can help.

In addition, there doesn’t appear to be one type of mattress that’s best for people with back pain. It’s probably a matter of what feels most comfortable to you.

The Mayo Clinic experience and patient stories

Our patients tell us that the quality of their interactions, our attention to detail and the efficiency of their visits mean health care like they’ve never experienced. See the stories of satisfied Mayo Clinic patients.

Aug. 21, 2020

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