main symptoms of back pain

By Sally Ann Quirke, Chartered Physiotherapist | Filed under: Back Pain Symptoms


Symptoms of back pain
Examining the symptoms of back pain

Most people have experienced back pain at some point in their lives. The types of pain and severity of pain vary greatly, for example a dull ache or a sharp severe pain that radiates down the thigh.

The back pain symptoms that my patients typically come to me with can include a dull ache or tenderness in a certain area, to a sharp or pulsating pain, muscle spasms and pain that only occurs when you move in a certain way, Pain associated with Numbness, tingling, and weakness and referral pain in the legs, neck shoulders and are common complaints as well. In more severe cases, loss of bowel or bladder control can also be present.

So you see, there are a range of symptoms associated with back pain. What is important is that you and your medical professional can match the symptoms to the underlying cause of your back pain of the problem. Only then can you get effective treatment and relief from your back pain symptoms.

Here are some of the types of symptoms that would typically be associated with particular causes or problems.

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Back Pain Symptoms

  1. Muscle and ligament pain

    This is an easy one to notice - injured muscles and ligaments in your back symptomatically SCREAM at you if you stretch or bend your back. Generally the symptoms are only in the area where the soft tissues have been strained. You will usually feel the event happening in a sudden onset. I see this type of back pain symptom a lot in sportspeople and gardeners!

  2. Disc pain

    This is one I see a lot. Symptoms vary from severe lower back pain by itself, to no back pain at all - but with pain and/or tingling in the hip, thigh and lower outside leg. Pins and needles and/or numbness may be present. These symptoms in the leg(s) are known as sciatica.

    In more severe cases the foot will feel weak and you may feel a dragging sensation in your ankle when you walk. Passing urine and/or stools may be urgently felt or uncontrolled - a situation which usually requires immediate medical attention.

    Read more about the causes of disc pain here

  3. Medical conditions

    The most common conditions I see are spinal stenosis where the spinal canal is narrowed and nerves are trapped sending pain down one or both legs. In this case, lower back and/or leg pain is aggravated by walking and eased by bending forwards.

    Other medical conditions that I come across frequently include:

    • Fibromyalgia - This is a commonly labelled condition where we suffer from multiple pains in our back, neck and shoulders. It can be difficult to diagnose. Mechanically it involves multiple tender points in the muscles of the back and neck and results in general fatigue.
      It is largely treated by drugs but I have come across numerous people who have benefited greatly with advice and treatments from their Chartered Physiotherapist. Some are now pain free.
    • Arthritis - Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition which often affects the back. Although medical intervention is very important, physiotherapy procedures can significantly help and ease the symptoms.
    • Degenerated discs - As with your car your body parts degenerate with age and use. However, on a daily basis I see people who have lived with moderate to severe back pain associated with this condition for a long time, and after just one treatment with some simple advice their symptoms are greatly diminished. Wear and tear does not mean you must live with it!
    • Scoliosis - This is a twist or deviation in the spine, which can be present from birth or can develop due to poor posture or when the body adopts a coping mechanism to avoid pain. Responses to scoliosis treatments are usually very positive. In my own practice, treatment involves releasing the tensions on the tight side of the curve and showing you specific exercises to strengthen the other side. Simple but true!
    • Kyphosis - Kyphosis is a posture anomaly that can frequently result from a repetitive poor postural position or a pre-existing genetic condition. I see it mainly in office workers. Posture correction through Pilates usually provides quick relief and often correction. The earlier the detection the better.
    • Sacro-iliac joint strain - Commonly seen in women. Can result from poor postural habits or pre, mid or post-pregnancy. It also has a large hormonal influence and therefore can cause lower back pain around the time of ovulation and period. Laxity of ligaments seen in pregnancy can also cause mild to severe lower back pain in this area. Stability of the pelvis through positioning, exercise and a lumbar support belt can provide immediate relief from same.
    • Pubic-symphysis strain - Also commonly seen in pregnancy due to the laxity of ligaments caused hormonally. It can be relieved quickly with positioning, through mobilisation and support taping.

These are just some of the back pain symptoms I treat on a daily basis in my own clinic. I hope I have helped you to diagnose the type of back pain you may have. If you still feel unsure - please go to your local Doctor or Chartered physiotherapist for help. Remember - you and your doctor/physio need to get to know, and understand, your condition. This will ensure that any back pain treatment will be effective over the long-term.


While the content and materials contained in the articles on this website have been written & researched by Sally Ann Quirke, a professional, practising & fully qualified Chartered Physiotherapist (Physical Therapist) based in Ireland, they are provided for general information and educational purposes only. They do not constitute medical advice on any particular individual situation. Please see your Chartered Physiotherapist or other medical practitioner for full and individual consultation.

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