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Health Library

Low Back Pain

What Is Low Back Pain?

Low back pain is a symptom. Discomfort in the low back area below the lowest ribs and above the hips can be referred to as low back pain. The onset can be abrupt or very gradual.

Common Causes

Common causes of low back pain include a traumatic event such as a sport or work injury or a motor vehicle accident. More gradual onset low back pain may be caused by arthritic changes associated with normal aging. Stress and muscle tension are among the most common causes. Low back pain may also be due to disc bulging or herniation or fracture. Less commonly, low back pain can originate from non-musculoskeletal causes like kidney disease.


Initially, history and physical examination by a musculoskeletal expert should be completed. Diagnostic studies like x-rays or MRI may be ordered. Changes in bowel or bladder control should be assessed by your physician promptly.


Low back pain may respond to application of heat or cold. In the case of recent onset acute pain, cold is usually recommended. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed. Oral and locally injected steroidal medications are sometimes offered for more severe symptoms that limit function. Massage, physical therapy, chiropractic, and acupuncture are some of the non-invasive treatments that may manage and resolve low back pain. A very small percentage of people with low back pain require surgical intervention.

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