Lower back pain

Lower back pain occurs below your ribs and above your legs. It is often related to muscles, ligaments, and discs. As a part of Iowa’s only nationally ranked orthopedics program, our orthopedic spine experts offer treatments and therapies to help ease your lower back pain and will develop a plan of care tailored just for you.

Types of lower back pain

Acute lower back pain lasts for a few days up to a few weeks. It is most often caused by a sudden injury to the muscles and ligaments supporting your back.

Chronic lower back pain lasts for a longer period of time, generally three months or longer. Many people with chronic back pain have arthritis, or they may have had extra wear and tear on the spine due to heavy use from work or sports, past injuries or fractures, or past surgery.

Lower back pain includes three categories:

  • Mechanical lower back pain - pain caused by placing unusual stress and strain on muscles of the bones that make up your spine. Typically, mechanical pain results from bad habits like poor posture, poorly designed seating, or incorrect bending and lifting motions.
  • Visceral pain - pain felt when internal organs are damaged or injured.
  • Non-mechanical lower back pain - pain caused by an inflammation, an infection, or a malignancy.


Symptoms of lower back pain can include:

  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty standing straight
  • Radiation of pain to other parts of your body, including down the leg
  • Back spasms

Causes and risk factors

Lower back pain could have been caused by a recent injury, or it could have built up over time from repeated heavy lifting, playing sports, or past injuries. Arthritis is also a common cause of back pain.

Risk factors include:

  • Age
  • Obesity
  • Doing tasks with repetitive motion, like bending or heavy lifting
  • Sitting for long periods of time while driving or working at a desk
  • Playing contact sports like basketball or soccer
  • Smoking
  • Poor posture
  • Family history
  • Depression

Treatment options

Your doctor may recommend one of these treatments for lower back pain:

  • Physical therapy
  • Changing your lifestyle and the activities you do
  • Rest
  • Back brace
  • Cold packs and heat therapy
  • Injections
  • Surgery
Last reviewed: 
July 2016

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