"Backache" isn't a one-size-fits-all complaint. Its location, severity, how fast it comes on and how long it hangs around say a lot about their causes, their cures and your health.  Read on for four types of backaches and what you should do about them.

1. Low back pain relates to the lumbar region of your spine, where it connects to your pelvis is where you carry most of your upper body weight and is the center for most body movements.  No wonder it hurts sometimes.   If your back and abdominal muscles aren't strong enough to support your weight or the weight of something you pick up or if you make a "weird" move, back muscles tense so they can guard/protect your spine. Tense muscles equal backache.

What should you do?  Immediately, rest your back, apply ice packs alternating with heat and consider taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication like ibuprofen.  If your low back pain doesn't subside soon, call your doctor. 

Once you're healed - get busy strengthening your back and core muscles with yoga, Pilates, strength training and safe sit-ups.

2. Mid-section. While muscle pain in the area around and above your waist can be just another form of muscle injury, similar to low backache, it can also indicate a more serious problem - kidney disease.  If the pain is primarily on one side of the spine, radiates out towards the ribs, is associated with any urinary tract problems, nausea, fever or dizziness, call your doctor immediately.  Kidney stones, kidney infections and other forms of kidney disease can be extremely painful and may indicat e other serious health complications.

What should you do?  Symmetrical ache with no accompanying symptoms can be treated with rest, ice, heat and ibuprofen.  If it's one sided or there are any other symptoms as listed above, don't treat it yourself. Take this backache to the doctor.

3. Upper backache. While herniated disc or arthritis are possible sources for upper backache, most are caused by muscle injury from sports, heavy lifting, or poor posture.  We may not even know how it happened; all we know is that the area between our shoulder blades is achy. If your upper back is sore at the end of your workday, think about how your workstation is set up.   If you routinely crane your neck to see your computer screen, hold your phone with your shoulder or twist and bend to reach your files, the ergonomics of your office may be all wrong.

What should you do? Even though it hurts to move, stretching periodically throughout the day is just what your back needs.  Rest, ice, heat and ibuprofen are all that's needed for most upper back aches.  If it doesn't respond to these self-treatments - go see the doctor for further evaluation. 

Once the initial achiness is resolving, talk to a fitness instructor about strength and flexibility training exercises to avoid further injury.

You may also be able to relieve muscular stress and spinal strain by repositioning your office equipment and investing in a better chair. 

4. Sudden, sharp pain in any part of your back that's accompanied by numbness, burning, shooting pain, tingling or inability to control your arms and legs may be caused by a serious condition involving your spinal cord or heart. 

What should you do? No messing around - this is a 911 emergency.


National Institutes of Health

Back Pain



Mayo Clinic

Back Pain