Back pain affects eight out of 10 people at some point in their lifetimes, occurring in about 31 million men and women in the U.S. at any given time. Low back pain is the top cause of disability around the world, and among the most common reasons for work absences. It’s also the second most common cause of doctor visits, led only by respiratory infections. 
Back pain can develop following injury, as a result of overuse or as a consequence of a disease. Pain is often described as acute, which typically lasts a few days to a few weeks, or chronic, which lasts for several months or longer, and it can range from a dull ache to sharp, shooting pain. Many issues or conditions can cause back or spine pain, including:
- Ruptured or herniated disc
- Muscle spasms
- Nerve impingement
- Degenerative disc disease
- Spinal stenosis
The risk of developing back pain increases with age and is also greater for people who are obese and those who live sedentary lifestyles. Smoking, genetics and occupational risk factors can also increase the likelihood of back pain.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The symptoms of back pain can vary depending on the underlying cause and what structures for instance, nerves or muscles – are involved. Some of the most common symptoms of back pain include :
- Pain along the spine, anywhere from the neck to the lower back
- Sharp pain when using the back to lift, bend or perform other activities
- Dull aching in the lower back, especially following long periods of standing or sitting
- Shooting pain or burning sensations that radiate from the low back through the leg
- Muscle spasms
- Inability to turn the head without pain
- Chronic headache
Back and neck pain can evolve as an injury or disease progresses.
Like back pain symptoms, treatment can vary based on the underlying cause of back pain. In some cases when back pain is the result of minor overuse or strain, rest combined with over-the-counter pain medications may be enough to relieve symptoms. Applying either heat or cold – or alternating the two – may help reduce inflammation and increase circulation to aid in healing for minor back issues and discomfort.
When over-the-counter medications are not sufficient to relieve pain, prescription medications to reduce pain or treat muscle spasms may be used as well as cortisone injections to reduce inflammation, especially when nerve impingement is involved.
Lifestyle changes like weight loss and learning new ways to perform some activities like lifting or moving heavy objects may help reduce symptoms. Physical and occupational therapy can also play an important role in back pain management.
For very serious back issues including degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, spinal stenosis and other chronic injuries, surgery may be required to remove discs, fuse the vertebrae, widen the spinal canal or address other issues.