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Back pain

Overview of back pain

Back pain is very common among adults. Any type of pain or discomfort between your lower neck and tailbone is defined as back pain.

Back pain is one of the most common reasons why people visit the doctor. At Dignity Health, our orthopedic surgeons and specialists offer complete care for a wide variety of conditions that cause back pain. If your doctor has recommended treatment for back pain, find a specialist near you.


The following are common symptoms of back pain:

  • Anxiety or depression
  • Persistent sleep problems or fatigue
  • Headache
  • Pain in your hip, shoulder, or neck
  • Pain that runs through your buttocks and down one leg
  • Stiffness and trouble moving
  • Warmth, redness, or swelling in your back

Speak with a doctor if you’re experiencing severe or persistent back pain that is limiting your daily activities.


In many cases, your back pain may develop due to a problem with the structures of your back itself, such as your spinal column, ligaments, muscles, or nerves.

Such problems may be due to:

  • Arthritis
  • Compressed or bulging discs
  • Muscle strains and spasms
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spinal alignment problems like scoliosis
  • Nerve pain such as sciatica

Other medical problems, including those related to women’s health, the heart and blood vessels, and kidney conditions, can also cause back pain.


Depending on what causes it, back pain may come on suddenly, with sharp, stabbing pain, or it may build gradually over time. Cases that come on rapidly are called acute back pain, while back pain that develops slowly or lasts longer than eight weeks is called chronic back pain.

Back pain can also be described based on what area of the spine is affected. For example, neck and upper back pain are related to the neck and shoulder muscles and cervical and thoracic vertebrae, and pain in the middle and low back may be associated with the lumbar vertebrae or the organs which sit below the ribcage, such as the kidneys. 

Risk factors

Some everyday activities can increase your risk of injury or strain in your back, including:

  • Manual labor where you repeatedly engage in lifting, pulling, pushing, or bending motions
  • Jobs that involve sitting still for long hours
  • Overstretching
  • Carrying a heavy backpack
  • Weightlifting with improper form (e.g., “lifting with your back”)
  • Participating in sports that include lifting or twisting motions, including gymnastics, tennis, baseball, martial arts, skiing, and climbing

Other common risk factors include:

  • Age (back pain is more common in older adults and usually first occurs in people older than 30)
  • Scoliosis and other conditions that affect the spine or back muscles
  • Car accidents or other traumatic injuries
  • Weight gain


Here are some steps you can take to protect your back and prevent the development of low back pain:

  • Use proper form when lifting
  • Pay attention to ergonomics and make sure your office chair is set up well to support proper posture
  • If recommended by your doctor, regularly complete exercises that support increased core strength and flexibility
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Do not “push through” pain

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.