Common Medical Complaint

Nearly everyone will experience back pain at some point in their lives. It is one of the most common medical complaints and a leading cause of missed work and disability. Back pain can occur in any part of your back, including the muscles, joints, bones, tissues and nerves.

There are two types of back pain:

  • Acute, or short-term, back pain begins suddenly and typically lasts from a few days to a few weeks.
  • Chronic, or long-term, back pain lasts for more than three months and may continue for years. Pain may come and go or occur continuously.

Back pain often has no identifiable cause but may be linked to injury, illness or infection. Wear and tear due to age, including arthritis or osteoporosis, may also be a contributing factor.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

The symptoms of back pain can very widely - ranging in intensity from a mild annoyance to severe, debilitating pain. 

Common symptoms include:

  • Muscle stiffness or pain along your spine
  • Stabbing or shooting pain that radiates from your buttocks down your leg
  • Tingling or numbness in your leg

Most back pain isn’t a medical emergency, but some symptoms are warning signs that indicate you need immediate medical attention, including:

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control accompanied by weakness in your legs
  • Leg weakness that comes on suddenly
  • Back pain that occurs with fever

Several tests can help identify and diagnose back pain, including:

  • X-rays
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Blood tests to determine if infection is present
  • Nerve conduction study and electromyogram to assess muscle function and identify nerve damage
  • Bone density test

Most back pain resolves itself or responds well to treatment. For a small percentage of people, back pain is a chronic condition that requires medical intervention to achieve relief.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Top-Ranked by U.S. News & World Report

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopedic providers in the country by U.S. News & World Report. This honor was earned because our doctors consistently deliver exceptional patient care and outcomes through their commitment to advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

Coordinated, Specialized Care Through a Dedicated Institute

Our orthopaedic specialists work together through our dedicated Penn State Bone and Joint Institute. There, they focus on providing you with multidisciplinary, tailored care and state-of-the-art treatments and technologies. This produces the highest-quality patient outcomes. All physicians at the institute are fellowship-trained and subspecialize in additional niche areas of orthopaedics, including arthritis care and joint arthroplasty (joint replacement surgery).

Designated as a Blue Distinction® Center

Penn State Bone and Joint Institute is a Blue Distinction Center for Knee and Hip Replacement. This superior designation from BlueCross BlueShield is only given to health care facilities and providers that stand out for their expertise in delivering specialty knee and hip replacement care. Our surgeons specialize in a range of pain-relieving procedures, including partial knee replacement, total joint arthroplasty, joint preservation surgery and complex revision surgery. They perform more than 1,000 joint replacement procedures every year.

Confidence in Treatment Through Education

We developed a special joint replacement education website just for patients undergoing joint arthroplasty. The website takes you step by step through the joint replacement process. From things to consider before choosing surgery to recovery after surgery, you’ll find the information you need to help you feel confident in your decision to undergo joint replacement.

Advancing Orthopaedic Medicine Through Research

The doctors and researchers in our Center for Orthopaedic Research and Translational Science at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center are committed to advancing our field through scientific discovery and education. As the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania, Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine, and on the leading edge of new treatment options, including clinical trials.

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