The Signs and Symptoms of Back Pain

Updated at: Dec 21, 2013
The Signs and Symptoms of Back Pain

Symptoms of back pain include the inability to stand or sit for prolonged periods of time, sharp shooting pain, limited flexibility and the worsening of pain with the increase in physical activity.

Bhadra Kamalasanan
PainWritten by: Bhadra KamalasananPublished at: Dec 21, 2013

Back pain is a common complaint among adults of all ages and about 80 percent of adults will experience at least one episode of back pain at least once in their life.

Back pain symptomsBack pain can be acute (starts suddenly and lasts from a few days to a few weeks) or chronic (lasts for three months or longer) but chronic back pain is less common than acute back pain. The signs and symptoms of back pain differ and depend on the type of back pain that one is suffering from. Some of the commonly seen symptoms in all the types of back pain include:

  • Pain in the lower part of the back or the lumbosacral area (this is main complaint). Pain may remain limited to the back or may radiate down to the leg (front, side, or back of the leg).
  • Pain can be shooting or stabbing in character.
  • Worsening of pain with activity, at night or after prolonged sitting or standing.
  • Numbness or weakness of the leg (if the nerves are compressed).
  • Muscle pain or ache.
  • Limited flexibility or range of motion of the back due to pain or spasm of muscles.
  • Difficulty or inability to stand straight.

Lower Back Pain

In this type of back pain, the patient will suffer from pain only in the lower part of the body, but this may also be felt on the front, right or left side of the leg. The pain may develop all of a sudden after lifting a heavy object or twisting the back in an awkward way. It may also develop as a result of poor posture for several years. Sometimes, it may also start off without any apparent reason. Patients with lower back pain have reported that the pain was at its worst at night, after sitting in the same position for a really long time and during any activity. Lying on a flat surface for a while may ease the problem.

Upper or Middle Back Pain

Upper or middle back pain may occur anywhere starting from the nape of the neck to the bottom of the rib cage. This particular area is referred to as thoracic spine. If you have an injured or trapped nerve on the back behind the rib cage, you may experience pain in other areas of the body as well like the legs, arms and chest. The middle and upper back pain is less common compared with lower back pain because the bones in this particular area are not so flexible as the bones in the neck and lower back. The pain that is accompanied in upper and middle back pain is usually dull, sharp or burning. The muscles may also feel like they are tightening up or becoming stiff. The below symptoms must be dealt with immediate medical attention:

  • numb or tingling sensation in the arms, chest, legs or abdomen
  • weakness in the legs and arms
  • loss of bladder or bowel control.

Symptoms of Other Types of Back Pain

Pain in the back can be easily because of other reasons other than the ones mentioned above. They include:

  • Sciatica: this type of back pain occurs in the lower back and moves all the way down to the buttocks into either one or both the legs.
  • Slipped disc: this is characterised by soreness in the lower part of the back along with weakness and tightness of the muscles. In this medical condition, the pain trickles down to the leg.
  • Arthritis: Pain in the joints including that of the bones when walking as well as stiffness in the morning are all symptoms of arthritis.
  • Frozen shoulder: Stiffness in the shoulder that makes it difficult for one to dress, sleep or drive can be a sign of frozen shoulder.

If you experience acute back pain, do not hesitate to consult a doctor because the sooner the better, lest you regret it for the rest of your life.


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