Share this page:
Watermelon feta mint salad

Understanding Back Pain

What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain itself is a symptom of a medical condition, not a diagnosis. Aging, poor physical conditioning, smoking, stress, and being overweight can increase risk, but many things can cause back pain, including:

  • Overuse or strain that can occur with strenuous or repetitive lifting
  • Injury or trauma from falls, accidents or sports
  • Degenerative changes, such as decreased cushioning between discs
  • Osteoporosis, arthritis, scoliosis or other conditions or diseases
  • Infections or growths in the vertebrae or discs

Treating Back Pain

Mild back pain often goes away on it's own, and can be alleviated at home with one or more of the following:

  • Sleeping with a pillow under your knees, or sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees
  • Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • Applying heat or an ice pack. Just keep the heating pad on low or medium heat, and avoid applying ice directly to the skin.
  • Gentle movement and activity. Prolonged bed rest can actually delay your recovery.

If your back pain is chronic (lasting longer than six weeks), you need to see a doctor to determine the cause and treatment. For severe or debilitating pain, or pain accompanies by numbness or tingling, loss of bladder or bowel control, or fever, seek immediate medical help. Your doctor may need blood or urine tests, X-rays, or CT or MRI scans to determine the cause and appropriate treatment for your pain.

Depending on the cause, most pain can be effectively treated with medication, physical therapy, or spinal injections. A small number of people who don't respond to treatment or experience worsening pain may require surgery. New surgical options, including minimally-invasive lumbar spinal fusion, can result in excellent outcomes and reduced recovery time. Learn more about the innovative surgical options available from the neurosurgeons and orthopedic spine surgeons at El Camino Hospital with this video.

Lumbar Spine Fusion Surgery to Address Back Pain | El Camino Health


For a referral to an El Camino Hospital specialist who can treat your back pain, call 800-216-5556.

This article first appeared in the June 2014 edition of the HealthPerks newsletter.

You may also be interested in...

Visitor Screener

Visitor Restrictions

A visitor policy is in effect due to more restrictive measures being taken throughout the Bay Area.
HealthPerks Banner

Sign Up for HealthPerks

Get health information, event invitations, free screenings and more delivered to your inbox.
Find a doctor who will fit you well.

Find a Doctor

Use our directory to find a doctor with an office near our Mountain View or Los Gatos campus.