Health Advice



Mayo Clinic Q&A: Tips for dealing with back pain

Kendall Snyder, M.D., Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research on

Published in Health & Fitness

DEAR MAYO CLINIC: It seems like everyone I know has some type of back pain. My husband and I both suffer from back pain but mine is a dull ache at the end of the day while he seems to have shooting pain. Why are our backs so susceptible to pain and how do I know when we should talk with our doctor?

ANSWER: Back pain is extremely common, so you and your husband are not alone. About 80% of adults in the U.S. will experience low back pain at some point. Your back is made up of 30 bones stacked in a column surrounded by muscles and ligaments. Nearly every movement you make involves your back in some manner. This constant movement and support mean that your back is susceptible to strain and stress.

Not all back pain is the same, though, and symptoms can vary widely. Occasionally, a person with back pain can pinpoint the exact time it started, like when attempting to lift a heavy object or after a fall. More commonly, no specific trigger or event led to the pain.

Here are the most common causes and descriptions of back pain:

When to schedule an appointment

Most low back pain — even when severe — goes away on its own in six to eight weeks with self-care, such as resting from heavy lifting, applying heat or ice, using over-the-counter pain medications, and stretching. Physical therapy can provide tremendous relief from back and limb pain, and oftentimes people do not need more treatment.


Talk with your health care professional if you have a history of cancer, or if your pain:

Also, if your back pain occurs after a fall or another injury, you should seek medical attention. — Kendall Snyder, M.D., Neurosurgery, Mayo Clinic Health System, La Crosse, Wisconsin

(Mayo Clinic Q & A is an educational resource and doesn’t replace regular medical care. E-mail a question to MayoClinicQ& For more information, visit

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