Sharp lower back pain can be a sign of an injury, disk problems, sciatica, and other issues directly related to the back. It can also stem from an underlying condition, such as kidney disease or fibromyalgia.
Lower back pain is a widespread problem. In most cases, people develop back pain after doing something strenuous, such as lifting a heavy box, weightlifting, or making a quick twisting or jerking motion involving the back.
The level of the injury and the severity of the pain may affect the type of treatment a person needs. Sometimes, minor cases of sharp lower back pain resolve by themselves, but some people may require a visit to the doctor and physical therapy to help strengthen the muscles and prevent future injury.
Keep reading to learn more about some different causes of sharp lower back pain and how to treat them.
Up to 80% of adults will experience lower back pain at some point during their lives. Many different muscles, bones, and connective tissues meet in the back. This means that individuals may experience pain in this area for a wide range of reasons.
Slight variations in how a person experiences pain may help a doctor identify the source of back pain.
The following are some possible causes of sharp lower back pain.
A muscle strain might happen due to a simple action, such as bending down to pick something up or twisting while holding something heavy.
A person may experience a sharp pain that causes a burning or tingling sensation or a radiating ache. They may also have a stiff back, aching muscles, and pain that gets worse if they twist or move the back.
Muscle strains are generally minor injuries, and they often require little or no treatment.
Remedies for muscle strains in the back
Muscle strains generally respond well to rest, which means avoiding physical activity for a few days while the muscle heals. While a muscle strain is healing, avoid sitting upright, as this may engage the injured area.
However, after a few days of rest, getting some physical activity can help strengthen the muscles. A
Also, working with a physical therapist to create a gentle workout routine can help strengthen the affected muscle in the back.
Applying hot or cold packs may help treat symptoms such as swelling and pain. Alternate between 15–20 minutes of cold and 20 minutes of rest a few times each day for the first few days. Afterward, using a heat pack may help relax the tense muscles and promote circulation.
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol), may also help control the symptoms. Always follow the dosage recommendations, and do not use these medications to work through the pain.
Learn more about the differences between ibuprofen and acetaminophen here.
The sciatic nerve is a long nerve that runs from the back to the legs. Sciatica, which refers to pain in this nerve, occurs due to pressure on the sciatic nerve. This pressure can be due to an injury, such as a herniated disk, or a longer-term issue, such as incorrect posture.
Sciatica is relatively common in adults, with
Pain from sciatica may build up over time or come on all at once. It can also vary between a dull ache and an excruciating tearing or burning feeling. Many people describe the pain as warm or sharp, and it typically radiates from one side of the lower back down to the hip or buttocks.
Remedies for sciatica
Sciatica can often improve without medical treatment within 4–6 weeks. Resting, getting gentle exercise, and improving one’s posture can all help gradually strengthen the back and prevent extra pressure on the nerve.
If a person’s sciatica symptoms do not improve with home remedies and rest, they may wish to seek medical help.
A doctor can recommend prescription pain relievers and physical therapy to help treat the condition. In some cases, they may refer a person for surgery to remedy sciatica pain.
Surgical procedures can include lumbar decompression surgery and microdiscectomy.
In lumbar decompression surgery, a surgeon either removes part of a vertebra to ease pressure on a nerve or fuses vertebrae to improve spine stability. Vertebrae are the individual bones that together form the spinal column.
Learn more about the anatomy of the back here.
Intervertebral disk disease
Intervertebral disk disease occurs when one or more of the rubbery disks between the vertebrae deteriorate or break down.
These disks help cushion the vertebrae and help with mobility. The breakdown of these cushion areas can lead to localized pain. As the structure of the spine changes, disks and vertebrae may put pressure on various nerves, leading to pain in other areas of the body.
For example, if disk deterioration occurs in the lower back and affects nerves in this area, a person may experience sharp pains in their buttocks and legs.
Despite its name, the condition is not a disease. It is a natural occurrence that can happen with age.
Remedies for intervertebral disk disease
Some OTC anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve pressure on the disks and provide short-term pain relief.
Should the condition cause severe pain or affect a person’s quality of life, a doctor may recommend physical therapy and surgical intervention.
Some surgical procedures for this complaint include:
- Facet joint injections: In this procedure, a surgeon injects a local anesthetic and steroid solutions around the affected disks. This can provide stronger pain relief than OTC products.
- Facet rhizotomy: This procedure uses a probe that emits specific radio frequencies to deaden nerve endings in the affected area.
- Intradiscal electrothermal annuloplasty (IDET): During IDET, a surgeon inserts a catheter into the affected disk and then heats it up with an electric current. This can help reduce pain.
A slipped, or herniated, disk occurs when one of the spinal disks ruptures. This can put pressure on the nerves, which causes intense, sharp pain.
A person might also experience
- a tingling pain or numbness in the lower back, buttocks, and legs
- muscle spasms
- weakness in the lower back and legs
Remedies for herniated disks
Most cases respond well to mild treatment, such as rest and physical therapy. In more severe cases, a doctor may recommend pain relievers or steroid injections to reduce the symptoms.
In some instances, herniated disk surgery may be necessary.
Learn about some safe exercises for treating a herniated disk here.
Serious injuries from accidents
Forceful injuries from impact sports, vehicle accidents, and falls can all cause sudden back pain. Anyone who experiences back pain after such an event should contact a doctor, as this pain may signify something more serious, such as a fractured bone in the back.
Besides pain, some other symptoms of a serious back injury can include:
- loss of bladder control
- numbness in the groin or pelvis
- weakness in the legs
- pain when coughing or urinating
- loss of bowel control
Anyone who experiences these symptoms should contact a doctor.
Remedies for injuries from accidents
The best remedy for a back injury will depend on what damage it caused. With muscle strains, for example, rest and physical therapy may suffice.
Should a person experience a fracture in part of their spine, surgery may be necessary to help treat the damage.
Other chronic issues
Pain in the lower back may result from an injury, but it may also be a symptom of a
- incorrect posture
- spinal stenosis
- ankylosing spondylitis
- kidney infection
- kidney stones
- infection of the spine
- spinal cancer
In females, lower back pain might signal a range of conditions, including ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids, and ovarian cancer.
When other conditions cause lower back pain, treatment focuses on treating the underlying cause.
Back pain is widespread, and most people will experience some form of back pain from a muscle strain at least once in their lives.
However, back pain can also occur due to a variety of everyday activities or situations, such as:
- lifting a heavy box
- moving furniture
- lifting heavy weights at the gym
- twisting while practicing sports, such as tennis or golf
- engaging in physical contact sports
- twisting the back incorrectly while carrying weight
- carrying extra weight from pregnancy
- engaging in physical labor, such as agricultural or construction work
- sitting or standing for long periods
- wearing a purse, bag, or backpack over one shoulder
Depending on the severity and extent of these injuries, remedies may range from rest and OTC pain relievers to surgical procedures.
Physical therapy, posture correction, and rest can often help treat minor muscular injuries without surgery.
Learn more about treating lower back pain without surgery here.
In cases of severe muscle or bone damage, corrective surgery may be necessary.
Sometimes, people know the cause of their sharp lower back pain. For example, the pain may happen after they bend to pick something up or after an intense workout at the gym. In these cases, rest and home care may be enough to help the body heal.
However, there are some occasions when a person should contact a doctor, including:
- when the pain does not respond well to home treatments
- when pain that has no known cause lasts for longer than a couple of days
- when they experience tingling or weakness in the legs
People should take note of any symptoms as they appear to share with the doctor. The doctor will likely ask the person to describe their symptoms and how long they have persisted. They may also ask the person to do a series of movements to try to find the exact point of pain in the back and determine the underlying cause.
In some cases, the doctor may also order imaging tests, such as X-rays or MRI scans, to help with the diagnosis.
Read about 10 exercises for strengthening the lower back here.
Lower back pain is common. It often results from incorrectly lifting something or putting too much strain on the muscles in the back. Some chronic conditions may also lead to back pain.
Back pain from more minor injuries and strains generally responds well to home treatments, such as OTC pain relievers, ice, and rest.
Strengthening the muscles with physical therapy may help prevent strain injuries in the future. If the pain does not begin to get better within a few days, however, it may be time to contact a doctor for a full diagnosis.
In each case, working directly with a doctor or physical therapist can help identify and treat the underlying cause of sharp back pain in most people.