Back pain

How to manage upper and lower back pain - symptoms, causes and relief for back pain

Back pain, particularly lower back pain, is one of the most common reasons people see a doctor or miss work or school. In fact, around 80 percent of Americans will experience some type of low back pain in their lifetime, and lower back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability. Luckily, there are things you can do to prevent or relieve most types of back pain, and simple home treatment and correction of body mechanics often heal back pain relatively quickly. Surgery is rarely required to treat back pain.

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Severe back pain - when to see a doctor

Always contact a doctor if your back pain:

  • Is severe and doesn’t go away, even after a few weeks    
  • Is felt down one or both legs, or causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs    
  • Is accompanied by unexplained weight loss

Seek immediate medical care if your back pain:

  • Is accompanied by a fever
  • Causes new bowel or bladder problems
  • Follows a fall, blow to your back or other injury

Lower back pain

Lower back pain can be either acute, lasting only a few days or weeks, or chronic, lasting longer than three months, and can range in intensity from a dull, constant muscle ache to a sudden, sharp or shooting pain. The pain may radiate down into the leg, and be aggravated by certain movements, such as bending, lifting, twisting, standing or walking. It can come on suddenly, as a result of an accident, or injury, or develop over time as we age.

Lower back pain causes

Lower back pain is usually caused by injury, such as a muscle strain or sprain, but it can also result from certain diseases. Lower back pain can affect anyone, at any age, but it’s most likely to appear between the ages of 30 and 50. With age, the fluid content between the vertebrae in the spine is reduced, making the discs of the spine more prone to irritation. Muscle tone also tends to decrease in this age span, leaving the back more susceptible to injury.

The most common causes of lower back pain are:

  • Muscle or ligament strain. Sudden awkward movement, or repeated heavy lifting may strain backmuscles and spinal ligaments. Poor physical condition can also cause undue strain on your back resulting in painful muscle spasms.
  • Bulging or ruptured discs. When the soft material inside a disk bulges or ruptures, it can press on a nerve causing pain.
  • Arthritis. Osteoarthritis can affect the lower back. Spinal stenosis can occur when arthritis in the spine causes a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord.
  • Osteoporosis. As this condition causes your bones to become porous and brittle, painful fractures in your spine’s vertebrae can result.

Lower back pain can also be caused by certain diseases such as:

  • Cancer of the spinal cord
  • Sciatica
  • Arthritis
  • Ruptured or herniated discs
  • Kidney and digestive issues, including pancreatitis and gallstones
  • Uterine fibroids and endometriosis
  • Infections of the spine

Severe lower back pain

Certain types of severe lower back pain can indicate a medical emergency that requiresimmediate attention:

  • A sharp pain can indicate a torn muscle or ligament, or an issue with an internal organ.
  • A radiating pain that moves around or shoots to the glutes or legs, could indicate a nerve compression condition.
  • A sudden weakness in the legs can be caused by compressed nerves in the spine, or be indicative of a stroke.
  • Back pain combined with a sudden inability to control the bowels or bladder can be a sign of a serious nerve compression or a spine infection such as meningitis.
  • Saddle anaesthesia, or numbness or a tingling in the groin or glutes could be a sign of a serious nerve or spine condition.
  • Leg weakness, incontinence and numbness experienced together, could indicate cauda equine syndrome, a very serious illness that requires immediate surgery to decompress nerves and prevent permanent damage.
  • Very rarely, sudden, severe back pain can accompany a ruptured aneurysm, which can cause internal bleeding that can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Similarly rare but serious - aortic dissection can sometimes cause back pain, and can be fatal if not treated immediately.

Lower back pain relief

There is a lot you can do to ease lower back pain at home:

  • Keep moving - although you might feel like just resting when you’re in pain, doctors usually recommend keeping up with your regular level of daily activity. A sedentary lifestyle weakens the muscles around the spine and back which causes less support for the spine and can lead to long-term pain.
  • Stretch and strengthen - strength and flexibility exercises such as stretching, yoga, pilates and tai chi canboth prevent lower back pain, and offer pain relief.
  • Maintain good posture and a healthy weight - it eases the pressure on your lower back.
  • Use cold or heat - ice is best if your back has swelling or inflammation, while heat may help to relax stiff ortight muscles.
  • OTC pain relief - ask your doctor or pharmacist which type of medication is best suited to relieve your back pain. A medicated cream can also help.

Stretches for lower back pain

Research shows that a routine of strength and aerobic exercises combined with stretching two to three times a week can both help prevent and alleviate lower back pain. Some people who suffer from lower back pain have tightness in their hips and legs, so stretching the muscles, tendons and ligaments in these areas can provide some relief. Stretching also improves your range of motion and overall mobility.

In Paindrainer you will get access to a set of rehabilitation exercises, designed by pain management experts specifically tailored for home use to help you increase your flexibility, mobility and circulation.

Exercises for lower back pain

Doing exercises that strengthen the lower back, core, leg, and arm muscles, can be helpful to alleviate and prevent lower back pain. This is because exercising improves core strength, stability, and flexibility. Exercise also increases blood flow to the lower back area which can help to reduce stiffness and speed up recovery. In addition to exercising, it’s recommended to pay attention to your posture and technique when lifting heavy objects or similar.

Always proceed carefully when starting a new exercise regimen. It’s important to begin with a gentle program and slowly increase the intensity and duration of your exercise. Paindrainer gives you access to exercises developed together with Physiotherapists and can help you to optimise your program and keep it at the right level for you.

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Middle and upper back pain

Middle back pain may be felt as muscle tightness or stiffness, or pain ranging from dull to sharp. Similar to upper back pain, pain in the middle back is often due to soft tissue injuries such as strains and sprains of muscles, ligaments and discs from overuse, injury, or poor posture. Pain in the middle back may also be caused by a herniated disc or other types of pressure on spinal nerves, or a fracture of one of the vertebrae. Osteoarthritis and myofascial pain can also cause middle back pain.

Chronic back pain

Chronic back pain is any back pain that continues for three months or longer. Most back pain is acute (lasts shorter than 12 weeks) and tends to resolve on its own or with self-treatment within a few days or weeks. Chronic back pain persists even after the initial injury or underlying cause has been treated. In some cases,treatment successfully relieves chronic back pain, but it can also persist despite medical and surgical treatment.

Yoga for back pain

Yoga is a great way to manage and relieve back pain. Since yoga connects the mind and body, practicing yoga can help to relieve both the physical pain, and the emotional stress that can accompany the pain. Yoga can strengthen and relax the body, giving you a preventive effect. In addition, yoga helps you develop better body awareness which helps to balance and relax your body.

Stretches for back pain

Stretching is a key part of any back exercise program, and a specific stretching program may be prescribed by a doctor, physical therapist, or spine specialist as a part of your treatment for back pain. Severe or chronic back pain may require weeks or months of daily stretching to successfully reduce pain.

Managing back pain

If you are experiencing back pain, see your doctor to discuss your symptoms and make a treatment plan. Newadvancements chronic pain management can also help you to optimize how you live with chronic pain while maintaining an active lifestyle.


National Institute of Neurological disorders and stroke - Low back pain fact sheet

What You Should Know About Low Back Pain

UT Southwestern Medical Center - 5 signs your back pain might be an emergency

Mayo Clinic - Back pain

10 ways to manage lower back pain at home

Upper and middle back pain

Cleveland Clinic - Is it normal to have one-sided back pain

The 10 best yoga poses for back pain

Stretching for back pain

13 Best Stretches to Ease Your Lower Back Pain

8 yoga poses to relieve lower back pain

How to strengthen the lower back

Paindrainer is proven to help you manage your pain

Data for individuals with chronic back and neck pain using Paindrainer for 12 weeks.

Improved physical function*
Decreased pain intensity*
Decreased pain interference*
Increased daily capacity to work*

*Barreveld A.M.,et al,. Pain Med. (2023) Apr 27

User reviews

Many satisfied users benefit in understanding their pain and managing their daily lives

"By using Paindrainer, I've gained an understanding of what negatively affects my pain and what I need to do to take care of myself.

I've realized how important it is to sleep well, do things I enjoy, and incorporate rest into my daily life. It makes me feel better. Mentally, it's positive because I notice that days vary, and it gives me hope when the pain is at its worst.

Paindrainer is easy to use and has become like a friend I carry in my pocket, reminding me to be kind to myself."

- Maria

"Paindrainer has truly helped me create a more balanced daily routine and make conscious decisions to prioritize what is valuable for me and improve my well-being.

After just a week of using Paindrainer, I received recommendation to prioritize more sleep. Now, I've increased my sleep from 6 to 7 hours per night, which has really benefited me. In addition to sleep, Paindrainer made me aware that longer workout sessions were increasing my pain. As a result, I've adjusted my training to shorter sessions of no more than 20 minutes and added an extra training day per week instead, which suits me much better.

- Cecilia