Health Info

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General Health - Back Pain

Most low back pain is caused by mechanical problems with the joints or muscles of the back. Your clinician will help rule out more serious disorders of internal organs, which can also cause back pain.

Common Causes of Low Back Pain

Acute Back Strain:

Pain in a specific back muscle that is overstretched by abnormal posture or sudden movement. The strained muscle is usually tender.

Low back pain syndrome

Recurring low back pain (and often pain in the upper back and neck as well) brought on by poor posture, physical stress, loss
of flexibility, and scarring from previous injuries. Most episodes
of low back pain are self-limiting. The immediate goals of treatment are prevention of further injury and relief from pain.


Pain radiating down into the leg (usually below the knee) from irritation of the nerve root by bulging of the disk between the bones in the back. Symptoms of sciatica can also be caused by
tight muscles or by inflammation of the sciatic nerve.

Herniated Disc

Herniated discs can occur from acute injuries as well as routine wear and tear. The pain can be localized or radiate down the course of a nerve if the disc is pressing on one. Herniated
discs will usually heal with time and the pain will usually resolve although surgery is occasionally necessary.

See Your Health Care Provider If:

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Self Care

Most back pain will last only a few days and can resolve with self-care. It can however last for weeks and become chronic.

Consider Physical Therapy

In an emergency go to Mount Nittany Medical Center or call 911 for an ambulance.

Preventing Back Pain

What can I do to help prevent back pain?

Posture and Precautions

Many low back problems are caused by poor posture, especially when sitting, or by bending or lifting improperly. Here are some tips:

Sitting: sit with your hips all the way back in the chair, and rest your back against the chair’s backrest. Try to keep your knees lower than your hips and your feet supported.

Sleeping: A moderately firm mattress with a very firm box spring or board under it is usually best.

Standing: Avoid positions where you are standing bent forward for long periods, even if it’s only a little bent over. If you must bend over for a while, straighten up every few minutes and arch your back a few times. If you have to stand for longer periods, use a footrest to help relieve pressure in your low back. Women should note that shoes with moderate heels strain the back less than those with high heels.

Lifting and carrying: Bend your knees, keeping your torso upright, and use your leg muscles to lift. Bend at the hips and knees, never at the waist. Tighten your abdominal muscles as you lift to stabilize your spine. Do not twist your torso while you are lifting, carrying, or putting down heavy objects. Turn your feet instead.

Keep the load close to your body, and don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy.

Driving: Sit close enough to the steering wheel while driving so that your legs are not fully extended when you work the pedals. Roll up a towel lengthwise and position it at your belt line in your low back curve and lean back over it. The towel roll should be thick enough to fill in your low back curve comfortably. Using a towel roll can be helpful especially when driving for prolonged periods of time.

Working: If you can, change from one position to another before you feel fatigue. If you work at a desk all day, get up and move around whenever you get the chance. If you stand for long periods, sit down during breaks.

Exercise: Get regular exercise (walking, swimming, etc.) But start slowly to give your muscles a chance to warm up and loosen before attempting anything strenuous.

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Exercises that help strengthen the back and abdominal muscles may be the most effective way to speed your recovery. In addition to the exercises below, back-healthy activities such as swimming, walking or movement therapy can help improve coordination, posture, and balance. Any mild discomfort felt at the start of these exercises should disappear as muscles become stronger. If the pain is more than mild and lasts longer than 15 minutes, stop and consult a clinician. Do the exercise on a firm surface. You may want to use a heating pad before the exercise to relax tight muscles. Begin with 5 to 10 repetitions of each exercise and increase as tolerated.

Prone on elbows: Lying face down, push up on your elbows to arch your back. Let your lower back and legs relax as much as you can. Hold this position for 20 to 30 seconds.

Prone press-up: Lying face down, push up with your arms to arch your back, keeping the hips in contact with the floor. Slowly lower your body back to the floor. Go up only as high as you can without pain.

Abdominal Bracing: Lie on your back, with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Tighten your abdominal muscles by pulling them inward toward your low back. The curve of you low back should straighten. Hold for 5 seconds.


In an emergency go to Mount Nittany Medical Center or call 911 for an ambulance.

Test Results and Advice Nurse

Send secure message to advice nurse via the UHS website or call 814-863-4463.


Appointments can be made online or by phone 814-863-0774, or in person. If you are unable to keep your appointment, please call or go online to cancel. Otherwise you will be charged for the visit.

This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. This information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.

Reviewed 4/13/2016

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