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Back Pain

Like many other people, you probably have experienced pain in your back, hand, or knee in your life. You may have acute pain which starts suddenly and gets better after a short time. Or you may experience chronic pain which persists and may get worse over time.

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Back pain is one of the most common conditions among adults in the United States.1 It can affect one area or spread all over your back.

Symptoms of back pain include:1,2

  • Muscle ache
  • Shooting or stabbing pain
  • Stiffness in the morning that reduces with activity
  • Pain that radiates into your leg or hip
  • Pain that worsens with lifting, bending, standing, or walking
  • Pain that improves with reclining or resting

Several conditions can cause back pain:1,2

  • Mechanical or structural problems, such as muscle or ligament strain, sprain, bulging or ruptured disks, injury (e.g., fracture) or skeletal irregularities
  • Inflammatory conditions, such as certain types of arthritis of the spine (e.g., osteoarthritis)
  • Certain medical conditions, such as osteoporosis

What are the Treatment Options for Back Pain?

Treatment options for back pain vary depending on the cause of the pain. Some of the common treatment options include lifestyle modifications (e.g., weight loss), medications, physical therapy, and/or surgery.


Several oral or topical pain relievers can help reduce back pain. Some of these oral medications are available over-the-counter (OTC) such as ibuprofen (Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). Some topical medications that are available over-the-counter include creams, liquids and patches that contain capsaicin, menthol, methyl salicylate, lidocaine and other compounds. Stronger pain medications or corticosteroids may need to be prescribed by your doctor.

Physical Therapy

Home therapy such as resting and applying hot or cold packs on your painful back may help relieve the pain. You can also try to limit activities that cause the pain.

Your doctor may recommend you do physical therapy to help with the pain. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to strengthen your back and improve your posture.


Surgery may be needed for certain types of back pain. For example, you may need surgery to remove a bulging disk on your spine that does not respond to other therapy.

If you have back pain that doesn’t improve with home treatment or OTC medications, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor can help identify the cause of your pain and recommend appropriate treatment options for you.

Our website content is made available solely for general information purposes. We do not provide medical advice or diagnosis.

  1. Back Pain – In-Depth. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Updated July 2019. Accessed April 14, 2020.
  2. Back Pain. Mayo Clinic. Accessed April 14, 2020.


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