chronic back/neck pain

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Guide to Low Back Pain - Symptoms

Low Back Symptoms

Back pain symptoms – including the type, location, and severity of the pain – depend upon the underlying cause of the pain.  The symptoms are an important indicator of the potential cause of the patient’s pain.

There is a wide range of possible symptoms associated with low back pain, some more serious than others.  Unlike many health conditions, the severity of symptoms does not necessarily equate with the severity of the problem: ie. a simple muscle strain can cause extreme pain, whereas a completely degenerated disc can be completely painless.

Symptoms of muscle strain
The most common low back pain symptoms are usually associated with a muscle strain or sprain and are characterized by:

  • Muscle spasms, cramping
  • Stiffness and possibly inability to move much at all
  • Pain, usually concentrated in the low back and buttocks
  • Pain that is made worse by certain movements and feels better with rest.

The intense pain usually lasts one to three days and may be followed by a few days or weeks of moderate pain as the inflammation subsides and the area heals.

Symptoms of nerve root pressure
Pain from nerve root pinching or pressure travels down the sciatic nerve in the back of the leg (sciatica or radiculopathy).  It can be caused by a variety of low back conditions. The pain is typically characterized as follows:

  • May be accompanied by numbness, tingling, weakness, and/or loss of specific reflexes
  • Is usually present only on one side.
  • Long periods of sitting or standing typically worsen these symptoms.
  • Usually described as a sharp or burning pain

Symptoms of disc pain
As the discs in the low back degenerate, they lose some of their flexibility and shock absorbing qualities.  In some people, this can cause pain characterized by:

  • Low back pain that is often present at a low level but flares up occasionally
  • Pain that is worse after certain activities (such as bending forward or running)

The above is not a complete list of symptoms, but includes those most commonly seen among patients suffering from low back pain.

Rare, but serious, symptoms
While the vast majority of low back problems are not serious, there are a few rare symptoms that indicate the need for immediate medical care:

  • Bowel and/or bladder dysfunction that comes on suddenly
  • Leg weakness that is getting worse
  • Severe, continuous pain in the stomach and low back

Any person with the above symptoms is advised to get immediate medical attention.


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The information provided herein should not be used as a substitute for medical advice in any way.  A licensed medical professional should be consulted for any and all medical conditions and symptoms.

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