The pain can be achy or sharp in nature. It is usually localized in the low back and can be associated with difficulty doing everyday tasks. Stress on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine produce strain on tissues causing the back pain. There can be other, more serious causes.
If a nerve is irritated, the pain may extend into the buttock or leg on the affected side, and weakness or numbness may be present.
Other symptoms may include burning, tingling, or a shooting pain down the back of one leg. This is often called sciatica. However, the nerve involved is usually a spinal nerve, and only occasionally the sciatic nerve. Sciatica is known by many other medical terms, such as lumbosacral radicular pain or radiculopathy.
Sciatic Nerve Pain
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More serious symptoms associated with back pain that may require
medical attention include:
Pain that doesn't subside or worsens with restPain that is worse when you are reclinedPain that is sudden, severe, or that has gotten dramatically worseProgressive weakness or numbness in a leg or footDifficulty walking, standing, or movingNumbness in the genital or rectal areaLoss of bowel or bladder controlBurning or difficulty with urinationFever, unexplained weight loss, or other signs of illnessIf there has been any trauma, fall, or impactIf you have a history of cancer, back pain should be evaluated
Della-Giustina D. Evaluation and treatment of acute back pain in the emergency department. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 2015;33(2):311-326.
Konstantinou K, Dunn KM. Sciatica: review of epidemiological studies and prevalence estimates.
Spine. 33(22):2464-2472, 2008 Oct 15.
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
website. Available at:
Updated November 3, 2015. Accessed December 16, 2015.
Violante FS, Mattioli S, Bonfiglioli R. Low back pain. Handb Clin Neurol. 2015;131:397-410.
Winters ME, Kluetz P, Zilberstein J. Back Pain Emergencies.
Medical Clinics of North America.
Volume 90, Issue 3 (May 2006)
Last reviewed December 2015 by Laura Lei-Rivera, DPT
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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