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

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, ranked as one of the best orthopaedic 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 advanced treatments, translational research and provider training.

Innovative Care for Complex Challenges

Penn State Health offers innovative, leading-edge care for complex conditions like back pain. Our team of experts uses a multidisciplinary, collaborative approach to offer a wide range of care that includes orthopaedics, chronic pain management and therapy services to reduce your pain and improve your body’s function and movement.

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