Back Pain, Lower Back Pain & Upper Back Pain

Back pain, lower back pain and upper back pain is one of the most common ailments as we age. Back pain, particularly in the lumbar region, is one of the most common medical conditions, affecting about one-third of the adult population. Back pain affects normal functioning, causes more absences from work than other medical causes, and may significantly reduce one’s quality of life.

  • The lumbar spine, or lower back, is situated between the thoracic spine and the sacrum. It is a strong and resilient area, but endures immense stress and heavy load throughout life, resulting in the majority of problems we commonly refer to as back pain. Back pain occasionally causes concurrent pain in other parts of the body, due to the effect on nearby nerves. While back pain can affect people of all ages, the chance of developing back pain increases with age, due to years of activity and stress on the back.
  • The thoracic spine, or upper back, is attached to the rib cage and is situated just below the neck (cervical spine). Most pain in the thoracic area is muscular and generally resolves itself in a few weeks. However, there are some more possible serious causes of pain in the thoracic spine.
  • The sacral spine affects nerve communication to the lower part of the body, namely the hips, groin, back of the thighs, mid-buttocks, and perineal area. The most common pain in this area is sacroiliac (SI) pain, which is caused by injury or damage to the joint between the spine and the hip. This pain is felt in the lower back and buttocks.

The chest is also subject to pain from injury or trauma and to pain from medical conditions that originate in the lungs and gastrointestinal areas.

Back Pain Symptoms

  • Ache or pain (mild to severe) anywhere in the back
  • Stiffness
  • Pain that radiates down to the buttocks, legs, and back of the thigh
  • Pain that increases when bending, stretching, coughing, or sneezing
  • Numbness or weakness in the legs

Causes of Upper & Lower Back Pain


Lumbar (lower) Back Pain

  • Accident, injury, or fall
  • Muscle strain (from physical activity or exertion, such as lifting or carrying heavy objects, excessive bending or crouching)
  • Physical exertion
  • Poor posture
  • Obesity
  • Damaged or degenerated disks
  • Muscle tension or spasms
  • Medical conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoporosis, scoliosis, kidney stones, kidney infection

Thoracic (upper) Back Pain

  • Muscle tension or irritation
  • Spinal inflammation
  • Tumors or other growths in the chest
  • Disorders of the aorta

Sacral Pain

  • Damage or injury to the SI joint

Back Pain Treatment & Back Pain Relief - When to See a Doctor

Back pain often improves within a few weeks with rest and/or over-the-counter pain relievers. Persistent back pain should be addressed by your doctor, who may prescribe other medications, order physical therapy, or recommend further diagnosis and treatment by a specialist. Seek immediate medical attention if:

  • Your pain is from an accident, injury, or fall.
  • Your pain is severe or intolerable.
  • Your pain is accompanied by increased weakness in the legs, loss of bladder or bowel control, fever, or severe stomach pain.