Skip to content

Here's What Your Back Pain Is Telling You, Expert Says

An expert weighs in on what your back pain is telling you and when to see a physician.

Whether you're sitting at a desk all day and don't have proper lumbar support, or you lifted something a little bit too heavy, you may be experiencing dreaded (and incredibly frustrating) back pain. You're not alone, and you're likely wondering what your back pain is telling you.

This kind of pain is actually quite common, according to Dr. Rahul Shah, Board Certified Orthopedic Spine & Neck Surgeon. "In fact, over 80% of adults will have at least one episode of disabling back pain which [will] last several days during their lifetime," he explains. But don't fret, because not all back pain is a massive red flag something sinister is going on behind the scenes regarding your health. We spoke with Dr. Shah to get the details on exactly what your back pain is telling you, and when you should seek out a physician.

Read on to learn the scoop on what your back pain is telling you, and next, check out The 6 Best Exercises for Strong and Toned Arms in 2022, Trainer Says.

You have muscle sprain, strain, or back "tightness"

tired young woman with back pain sitting on the bed at home

Dr. Shah notes that generally, the most prevalent culprit of back pain is due to muscle strain, sprain, or back "tightness." He explains, "This type of discomfort is self-limited and typically improves in a few days to a few weeks."

Related: 3 Secret Tips To Avoid Back Pain When Sitting All Day, Expert Says

You're dealing with the "wear and tear" changes of aging

Middle aged mature woman feel hurt sudden back ache touch sore spine at home alone.

As you grow older, your body goes through common "wear and tear" changes, which could result in back pain. According to Dr. Shah, "This can occur in those who have arthritis or those who have had a prior injury to the back which has them morphed into an arthritic condition."

You have a herniated disk or an infection

man experiencing back pain

Back pain could be a cry for help that you have a herniated disk, which can occur anywhere on the spine, but most commonly in your lower back. In addition to disc-related issues, Dr. Shah says your backache could be due to infections, spinal nerve issues, broken bones, facet joint problems, pelvic and internal organ problems, and rarely cancers.

Related: The Top 3 Yoga Moves For Relieving Lower Back Pain, Expert Says

This is when you should see a doctor

woman having serious chat with her doctor

If you're wondering when you should see a healthcare professional about your pain, Dr. Shah weighs in. "In general, I used the rule of twos to categorize a pulled muscle. It will last 2 hours, 2 days, 2 weeks. If the muscle pain is not improving within a few days, and there are no other symptoms such as pain that trickle's into the arms, legs or goes into the chest, then seeing a physician within a few weeks is advisable," he says.

If the pain goes on for more than a few weeks, Dr. Shah says being seen by a physician is recommended. And if you're experiencing additional symptoms like chest pressure or pain/peculiar sensations in the legs or arms, seeing a healthcare professional as soon as possible is the right move. You should also consult with your physician if you're dealing with back pain and chills, night sweats, a fever, or unexpected weight loss.

"Additionally, if the pain trickles outside of the neck or back and into the arms or legs with or without any associated tingling sensations, seeing a physician is recommended," Dr. Shah says.

Home remedies like ice packs, meditation, and cozy footwear can help relieve back pain

woman putting ice pack on back

There are plenty of home remedies that can help soothe your back pain, but Dr. Shah stresses, first and foremost, "It's important to remember that if the pain persists you need to seek medical attention for proper diagnosis."

Using an ice pack or hot water bottle can aid in lessening inflammation and provide relief to painful or stiff muscles. Dr. Shah also recommends stretches like child's pose and toe touches that can relieve muscle strain. And lastly, he notes, "Comfortable footwear, workstation posture, and meditation for de-stressing are all also great ways to help soothe back pain. [Incorporating] daily aerobic activity can also help to alleviate muscle-related backache."

Alexa Mellardo
Alexa is the Mind + Body Deputy Editor of Eat This, Not That!, overseeing the M+B channel and delivering compelling fitness, wellness, and self-care topics to readers. Read more about Alexa