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Lower back pain

Overview of lower back pain

Lower back pain affects your lumbar spine, which is an area that supports much of your upper body weight.

Most people will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. It can be mild or severe, as well as either short-lived or long-lasting. It may be constant or on and off over time, but either way, low back pain can interfere with your daily life.

Don’t let lower back pain interrupt your favorite activities — find a Dignity Health doctor near you to help you regain your comfort and confidence.


Back pain often results from accidental strains, such as pulling a muscle when lifting something heavy. Most low back pain comes on suddenly and only lasts a few days or weeks. In other cases, back pain develops slowly over time due to aging.

Telltale signs and symptoms of low back pain include:

  • A dull, achy, or cramping feeling in the lower back (below your rib cage)
  • Pain that gets worse when you stand up or walk, and better when you lie down

Back pain feels different for different people depending on the type of injury that caused it. Also, it can come on quickly or develop slowly over time. Regardless of the type of pain, most people can find relief by lying down or reclining.


Low back pain has many potential causes, but muscle soreness from overactivity is one of the most common. When you overuse your low back muscles, they may become sore and achy. It’s also possible to overstrain your back muscles by lifting something heavy, twisting, or other strenuous physical activity. This kind of pain often goes away on its own within a few days.

Other causes of lower back pain involve the spine. Some causes of this kind of back pain include spinal arthritis, spinal tumors, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), and degenerated, ruptured, or herniated discs. Scoliosis, a curvature of the spine, can also cause low back pain.

In rare cases, conditions in other parts of the body can also cause pain in the lower back. Kidney infections, kidney stones, fibromyalgia, and endometriosis can all cause pain in the lower back. Some of these conditions might require medical treatment to alleviate symptoms.


Back pain is defined both by what caused it and how long it lasts.

Chronic back pain is back pain that lasts more than 12 weeks. While mild back pain often resolves after a few days or weeks of rest and recovery, chronic back pain may require more treatment or physical therapy to reduce symptoms.

Risk factors

Low back pain is one of the most common medical conditions among adults. In fact, about 25 percent of adults say they have experienced low back pain in the past year. If you’ve noticed a twinge in your lower back, you’re not alone.

Some everyday activities can increase your risk of injury or strain in your lower back, such as:

  • Jobs involving heavy manual labor and repeated lifting, pulling, pushing, or bending over
  • Jobs requiring sitting for long hours in chairs without proper back support
  • Overstretching
  • Carrying a heavy backpack
  • Weightlifting with improper form
  • Sports involving lifting or twisting motions, including gymnastics, baseball, martial arts, skiing, and climbing

Other 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
  • Pregnancy (there is more pressure on the back as the child grows and moves the center of gravity forward; it typically goes away after birth)


  • Avoid sitting for long periods. If you do work a job where sitting is required, make sure you have good posture and proper ergonomic equipment as well as adequate back support.
  • Use caution when lifting heavy objects and make sure you’re using proper form. Lift using your legs rather than your back.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Get regular exercise to strengthen your back and improve your overall physical fitness. Activities that strengthen the abdominal muscles help protect the lower back by stabilizing the core.
  • Avoid repetitive motion involving twisting or bending over, if possible.
  • Use caution when engaging in riskier and high-impact sports, such skiing, skydiving, snowboarding, climbing, football, and hockey.

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