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OTHER SYMPTOMS

What Causes Radiating Back Pain & How To Treat It

March 10, 2019

Symptom Guides > Other Symptoms > What Causes Radiating Back Pain & How To Treat It

by

Dr. Edo Paz

Edo Paz is VP Medical and Lead Physician at K Health. Dr. Paz has two degrees in chemistry from Harvard and an MD from Columbia University. He did his medical training in internal medicine and cardiology at New York-Presbyterian. In addition to his work at K Health, Dr. Paz is a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, a cardiology practice located in New York City.

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Back pain is one of the most common symptoms that people experience and one of the main reasons people visit a doctor. Radiating back pain means that the back pain moves from one part of your body to another. For example, lower back and front thigh pain or pain that radiates from the lower back down both legs is a common sign of sciatica.

 

In this article we’ll explore:

• The Anatomy of the Back
• What Are the Possible Causes of Radiating Back Pain?
• Additional Symptoms to Watch For
• Possible Back Pain Diagnoses & Treatments
• Radiating Back Pain: Treatments to Consider
• Still in Pain? What to Do Next
• Conclusion

The Anatomy of the Back

Before taking a look at the various causes of back pain, let’s take a moment to discuss the complex anatomy of the human back.

 

The spine, or backbone, runs up our back and has various important functions. It provides the body with support and protects the important nerves of the spinal cord. The spine is made up of vertebrae, which are a series of interlocking bones stacked on top of one another. The vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs, which cushion the vertebrae and keep them from rubbing together.

 

The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that carries messages from the brain to the body, and back. Spinal cord nerves come off at each level of the spine and exit the spine between adjacent vertebrae.

 

Back pain can stem from a problem with any of these components, so it’s important to pay attention to the clues in your back pain symptoms to help identify the cause of your back pain.

 

Back muscles help stabilize your spine and are almost constantly in use. In fact, these are the very muscles that help you stand up straight.

 

Ligaments are strong bands that connect one bone to another. The vertebrae in your spine are interconnected by ligaments.

What Are the Possible Causes of Radiating Back Pain?

There are many possible causes of back pain. The K Health app has had over 77,000 chats with users concerned about back pain. The most common causes fall into a few major categories of health concerns.

 

  • Muscle or ligament strains are extremely common. They can be caused by sudden or awkward movements, for example if you try to lift something that is too heavy or if you fall in an awkward fashion. So if you have lower back pain on the left side above your hip, this may be a muscle or ligament strain.

 

  • Radiculopathy is a disease of a spinal cord nerve. This can lead to pain, numbness, or weakness in the body part supplied by the nerve. Radiculopathy is typically caused by compression of the nerve as it leaves the spinal cord. This often happens when an intervertebral disc bulges and compresses the nerve as it leaves the spine. Sciatica is one example of radiculopathy that involves the leg, while upper back pain radiating to the arm may indicate radiculopathy of the upper part of your spine.

 

  • Arthritis is inflammation of a joint, and can cause pain in the joints of your spine.

 

  • Fractures in the spine can result from trauma, or when bones degenerate over time, as can be seen with osteoporosis.

 

  • Infections, such as kidney infections, can also cause lower back pain with frequent urination, back pain along your flank, or back pain radiating to the front, towards your bladder during urination.

Additional Symptoms to Watch For

If you have unbearable back pain and basic treatments aren’t helping, you should contact a doctor. You should also see your doctor if you have a history of cancer or osteoporosis, as these conditions predispose you to more serious causes of back pain. Radiating back pain could be a sign of a dangerous medical condition. If you have any of the symptoms below, you should be evaluated by a physician immediately:

 

  • Weakness in your arms or legs
  • Loss of control of your bowels or bladder
  • Fever above 100.4
  • Pain after a fall or other trauma

Possible Back Pain Diagnoses & Treatments

While K Health does not yet address all orthopedic conditions, the app can address radiating back pain related to a variety of medical conditions. If you open the K Health app and start a dialogue indicating that you have back pain, you’ll be able to pinpoint exactly where the pain is located and indicate whether it’s radiating down your leg, hip, abdomen, arm, or to another part of your body.

 

Depending on the location of your pain and the direction it radiates, the app will ask follow up questions to investigate the cause. Next, we’ll compare your case to similar cases of people like you who share your age and gender. You’ll be able to explore how their doctors diagnosed and treated their radiating back pain, which may help you decide when and where to seek treatment. You can also chat with a doctor in the app who can diagnose you, answer questions, and order any prescriptions or lab tests you may need.

Radiating Back Pain: Treatments to Consider

If you have back pain, there are various steps you can try to alleviate your pain at home and support your body as it heals:

 

  • Continue the activities you can tolerate, such as sitting, standing, or walking, but avoid those that worsen the pain, like low back pain when straightening up from bending.

 

  • Try over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen (brand name: Advil or Motrin) or acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol).

 

  • Try a warm compress by placing a warm towel or hot water bottle on your back. This can help relax the muscles in your back and soothe some of the pain.

Still in Pain? What to Do Next

If these interventions do not help and you still have unbearable back pain, you should contact your physician, who may prescribe you stronger pain medications, refer you for physical therapy, or complete other diagnostic tests such as an x-ray of your spine. Of course, you should also remember to take steps on a daily basis to prevent back pain, like doing exercises to strengthen your core muscles (especially abdomen and back), maintaining a healthy body weight, and focusing on good posture.

Conclusion

Radiating back pain can be related to a variety of medical and orthopedic conditions. It’s important to seek care if your back pain is accompanied by other symptoms like weakness or fever.

 

When it’s not an emergency, you can use the free K Health app to check your back pain symptoms to learn what doctors have done for people with similar radiating back pain. Armed with information about the treatment, medications, and tests that doctors ordered for similar people, you’ll be prepared to take the right steps to address your back pain.

 

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“If you have back pain, there are various steps you can try to alleviate your pain at home and support your body as it heals.”

Have questions about your back pain? Download K Health

by

Dr. Edo Paz

Edo Paz is VP Medical and Lead Physician at K Health. Dr. Paz has two degrees in chemistry from Harvard and an MD from Columbia University. He did his medical training in internal medicine and cardiology at New York-Presbyterian. In addition to his work at K Health, Dr. Paz is a cardiologist at Heartbeat Health, a cardiology practice located in New York City.

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