The most common cause of back pain is muscular. The wrong twist or pull can leave you in excruciating pain for days and even weeks. The good news is that back pain almost always gets better, usually within a couple weeks.
The bad news: Once you've had back pain, you're likely to get it again.
There are some other causes of back pain that have nothing to do with twisting or pulling muscles. The spine has an incredible number of moving parts for a structure that seems relatively immobile. Degeneration of the spine, arthritis or osteoporosis can lead to pain as well.
Occasionally, back pain can be a symptom of a more significant condition:
- Kidney stones are little stones -- usually composed of calcium -- that clog the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to your bladder (known as the ureters). The pain of a kidney stone is legendary and comes in waves. It's common for kidney stone pain to be bad enough to cause cold sweats and bring some people to their knees. Usually, kidney stone pain will be only on one side of the back (near a kidney) and wrap around to the groin. Kidney stones can prevent urination or cause pain when urinating.
- Sciatica is the irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is a bundle of nerves that run from the spine down the back of the thigh and leg. Sciatica pain feels like fire burning from the base of the spine down the leg. Sciatica is a symptom, rather than a condition, so your doctor will try to figure out what's causing the irritation.
- Infections that settle in the spinal cord or in the bones of the spine and pelvis.
- Fractures of the pelvis or spinal bones can be very painful. The back side of the pelvis and the spine come together in a triangular shaped bone called the saccrum. There is quite of bit of stress placed on the saccrum from sitting, and it or the tale bone (coccyx) can be fractured in a fall onto your butt. Having osteoporosis makes bones more brittle and puts you more at risk for fractures everywhere, including the spine, even with very little force.
- Osteoarthritis in the spine causes the disks between each spine bone (vertebrae) to break down. It leads to stiffness and pain.
This is not a complete list of back pain causes. It's a good idea to call the doctor if the pain you feel is new or different than you've ever felt before, or is associated with fevers or weight loss.