Lower back pain is a major bummer. Sitting? Ow. Turning? Ow. Walking? OW. There are tons of causes behind an achy-breaky back. Here’s how to prevent and treat pain in your lower left back, plus some serious underlying conditions to look out for.
Everything from a bad night’s sleep to a serious medical condition can cause lower back pain. Here’s the lowdown.
The most common culprits behind a sore lower back are:
- conditions affecting your internal organs
- muscle or ligament (aka soft tissue) injury
- injury to the spinal column (including facet joints or discs)
We took a deep (but safely postured) dive into each issue.
Lower left back pain can be a symptom of an organ condition. Causes can include:
Soft tissue injuries
Strains and sprains are common causes of lower back pain. A strain happens when you overstretch or tear a muscle or tendon — a sprain is when you do the same to a ligament.
You can get a strain or sprain from an injury, overuse, or lifting something too heavy. But sometimes even an awkward motion can make you twist-and-shout (in pain).
Symptoms of a strain or sprain can include:
- muscle spasms
Spinal column injuries
A bad blow to the back can injure your spine. It can happen from vehicle accidents, sports injuries, or even a simple slip on a slick floor.
Specific issues include:
- herniated lumbar discs
- sacroiliac joint dysfunction
- osteoarthritis in facet joints
The pain usually pops up ASAP. You might also feel some numbness or tingling radiate down your legs.
Some peeps have a back attack during during the ol’ menstruation.
Chronic lower back pain could also be a symptom of endometriosis — a condition where uterine tissue develops outside the uterus. According to a research review, you might notice the following symptoms alongside lower back pain if you’ve developed endometriosis:
- chronic pelvic pain
- cramps that occur outside your period
- a longer or heavier ride on the crimson wave
An inflamed epididymis — a duct behind the testes — can cause a condition called epididymitis. Think of it as going viral (or bacterial) in YourTubes.
Bacterial or viral infections are a common factor. Physical trauma can also set off this somewhat painful inflammation. While it can happen to anyone, epididymitis is most common in folks who are 20 to 30 years old, according to a research review
Your doc can give you antibiotics if bacteria is to blame (gosh dang you bacteria *shakes fist at the sky*). In more severe cases, a surgeon might need to drain or remove your epididymis.
Conditions that affect your spine, like scoliosis or kyphosis, can cause back pain and breathing concerns.
In more severe cases, the curvature can put extra pressure on your lungs. This might make it harder or painful to breath.
Kyphosis is a condition which curves your spine forward. This can lead to a hunch position. It can happen as a result of aging, during adolescence, or as a result of a spinal injury.
The condition can cause back pain, swelling, or balance difficulties. In more severe cases it can also make breathing or eating more difficult or uncomfortable.
Back pain associated with nausea has been linked to:
- kidney cysts
- kidney stones
- menstrual cramps
- chronic pancreatitis
If lower back pain is accompanied by the trots, it might be a symptom of an underlying condition like:
Your doctor can help you figure out the exact cause of your lower left back pain.
They’ll ask about:
- whether you have a history of back probs
- any recent injuries
- how much pain you’re in
- any other symptoms you feel (because clearly back pain just isn’t enough fun on its own 😑)
A physical exam will help your doc spot any visible conditions.
Your doc may also run imaging tests to see what’s going on down there. This may include:
- Blood tests: (to see if you have an infection)
- Ultrasound: (to check for soft tissue injuries)
- X-rays: (to show misaligned or broken bones)
- MRI scan: (to see if there’s a serious underlying condition)
- Nerve conduction test: (to look for nerve conditions)
- CT scan: (to look for soft tissue injuries or tumors)
You can manage some causes of lower back pain at home. But for more serious health conditions, you need to call a doc.
You might be able to treat minor to moderate lower back pain at home. Here are some top tips:
- Meds. Over-the-counter (OTC) options might help take the edge off. You can try ibuprofen (Advil), naproxen (Aleve), or aspirin (Bayer).
- Avoid it. Minimize activities that could trigger a back attack (e.g. heavy lifting or high impact sports).
- Rest it off. Take a few days off from strenuous activity. Even if your back is feeling better, it could still be healing.
You can also try:
- ice packs
- hot patches (you can finally put to use that novelty dachshund hot water bottle from three Crimbos ago)
- light stretching or yoga
- methyl salicylate (Bengay or Tiger Balm) creams
With your doc
If DIY treatments don’t do the trick, it’s time to schedule a visit with a doctor. They can prescribe:
- Injections. A lumbar steroid injection (aka epidural) might provide temporary relief.
- Pain meds. Drugs like hydrocodone (Lortab or Vicodin) can help you manage discomfort on a short-term basis. (These can be highly habit-forming — follow your doc’s instructions and scrip to the letter and stop using them as soon as you can.)
- Muscle relaxants. They can reduce muscle tightness and spasms. Popular options include chlorzoxazone (Paraflex) or baclofen (Lioresal).
Brace yourself! Your doc might also suggest you wear a back brace to speed up the healing. They might also recommend physical therapy to help you regain movement and relieve pain.
Some peeps prefer alternative care like:
You might also benefit from visiting a chiropractor. A small research review of 26 clinical trials found that chiropractic spinal manipulation can provide a “modest improvement” in back pain symptoms.
(Watch out for quacks and hacks though — make sure your chiropractor is registered with the American Chiropractic Association and isn’t making outrageous claim about what chiropractic treatment can achieve.)
Just be sure to talk with your doc before you go with one of these options.
Lower left back pain can mean anything from tissue and musculoskeletal issues to pregnancy pain and kidney stones.
If your back pain becomes debilitating, you can try healing at home using meds, stretching, and resting. Your doc might need to prescribe or administer stronger meds if the pain gets extreme.