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Lower back pain

Finding the source of your lower back pain is the first step toward getting relief

Pain in the lower region of the back is a significant health problem for many people. In fact, eight out of 10 people will have lower back pain at some point, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The discomfort can range from mild, dull and annoying pain to persistent, severe and disabling. So it’s not surprising that lower back pain can interfere with your daily activities.

What can cause lower back pain?

Causes of lower back pain can be difficult to pinpoint. The pain may be a symptom of one or more of the following:

  • Overuse, strenuous activity or improper use (repetitive or heavy lifting, exposure to vibration for prolonged periods of time)
  • Trauma, including injury or fracture
  • The effects of aging or stress on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine
  • Infection
  • Abnormal growth or tumor
  • Obesity, which increases the weight on the spine and adds pressure on the discs
  • Poor muscle tone in the back
  • Muscle tension or spasm
  • Sprain or strain
  • Ligament or muscle tears
  • Joint problems
  • Smoking
  • Protruding or herniated (slipped) disk
  • Conditions such as osteoarthritis, spondylitis or compression fractures

Tips for preventing lower back pain

These suggestions may help prevent lower back pain:

  • Practice correct lifting techniques
  • Maintain correct posture while sitting, standing and sleeping
  • Exercise regularly and do proper stretching before you begin
  • Avoid smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce emotional stress, which may cause muscle tension

How is lower back pain diagnosed?

The cause of lower back pain may be identified through a study of your medical history and a physical examination. If those do not reveal the cause of your pain, your provider may order one or more diagnostic tests, such as:

  • X-ray, which produces images of bones
  • Computed tomography scan, also called a CT or CAT scan, which can show bones, muscles, fat and organs
  • Magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, which produces detailed images of organs and structures in the body
  • Radionuclide bone scan, which shows blood flow to the bone and cell activity within the bone
  • Electromyogram, also called EMG, a test to evaluate nerve and muscle function