Back Pain

Patient Information: Low Back Pain

When should I see a doctor for low back symptoms?

  • New, severe low back pain
  • Low back pain not improved by rest, activity modification, or over-the-counter medications
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling that radiates from your back into your legs

What can cause low back problems?

  • Degeneration of the discs that cushion your vertebrae (spinal bones) from injury
  • Weakness or imbalance in your abdominal and back muscles (core)
  • Poor posture o Abnormal curvature of the spine (scoliosis, lordosis)
  • Fractures or stress injuries to your vertebrae from trauma or overuse

How are low back problems diagnosed?

  • Your doctor will perform an exam to evaluate your muscle strength, posture, spinal alignment, and sources of pain
  • X-rays can be obtained to evaluate the bones of your spine
  • An MRI may be obtained to evaluate the muscles, cartilage, and bones in your back
  • A nerve study called an EMG may be ordered to evaluate symptoms of numbness, tingling, or weakness

How are low back problems treated?

  • The initial treatment for most low back problems is conservative care: 
    • Resting from activities that increase pain
    • Taking medications such as anti-inflammatories
    • Applying ice and heat
    • Doing regular light stretching of back muscles o If your pain persists, certain anti-inflammatory injections may be performed
  • The goal is to help manage pain so that you can perform physical therapy and strengthening- the most important part of treatment for low back pain is strengthening and stabilizing the muscles that support your spine
  • In certain severe cases, surgery may be indicated

How can I prevent low back problems?

  • Perform regular core stretching and strengthening exercises
  • Maintain good posture and spinal alignment by using supportive chairs and mattresses, standing regularly at work, and lifting with good form (bending at the knees rather than the back)
  • Proactively address back pain when it starts


Where can I learn more about low back health?

To schedule an appointment, visit the Steward St. Elizabeth’s Sports Medicine website at:




736 Cambridge St, CCP9, Brighton, MA 02135

Phone 617-779-6500 Fax 617-779-6555


Adapted from: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (, Hospital for Special Surgery (, Mayo Clinic ( This information is for patient reference only. It is not intended to diagnose or guide treatment without evaluation by a physician.