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Lower back pain is extremely common. However, it’s essential to understand that not all lower back pain is the same. Lower back pain consists of a variety of causes or sources for the pain. From acute lower back pain that resolves within a matter of days or weeks, to suffering from chronic lower back pain for months on end. There are several different types of lower back pain diagnoses a pain specialist may consider when first evaluating your pain.

Understanding the type of lower back pain a patient has is critical to providing accurate, effective treatment options to relieve their pain. Not all lower back pain is the same. Therefore, not all back pain treatment methods will be effective at relieving your pain. In this article, you’ll learn about the 6 common types of lower back pain to know about so you can more accurately understand your unique diagnosis.

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How is Lower Back Pain Diagnosed

Before diving in-depth into each of the types of lower back pain, it’s important to understand how a diagnosis for the type of lower back pain is determined. This is because the correct diagnosis of a patient’s lower back pain is critical to ensure proper treatment options are recommended and delivered.

The doctor will evaluate the following to determine a diagnosis and to help guide treatment to lead to pain relief.

Patient History & Symptoms

A doctor will record your symptoms and medical history to get a better idea of your lower back pain. A doctor may ask the following questions regarding your:

• Current symptoms

• Activity level

• Sleeping habits

• Recent or Past Injuries

Physical Exam

Once your history and symptoms have been discussed, a doctor will proceed with a physical exam. This may include examinations like:

• Palpation

• Neurologic Exam

• Assess your range of motion

• Reflex Test

• Leg Raise Test

Diagnostic Imaging Test

Diagnostic imaging can help better understand and provide the doctor with more information to understand the cause of the pain.

Oftentimes, diagnostic imaging tests are used to further help understand chronic or more severe lower back pain issues.

Common examples of diagnostic imaging tests that may be run include:

• X-rays

• CT Scan


• Injection studies

A man with back pain holding his lower back

Different Types of Lower Back Pain Explained

Acute Lower Back Pain

Acute lower back pain involves any short-term lower back pain that lasts anywhere between a few days to weeks. Typically, most types of lower back pain are acute pain and will often resolve on their own, with the assistance of some nonsurgical techniques like OTC medications, applying heat or ice pads, physical therapy, and more to relieve the acute pain in the meantime.

Chronic Lower Back Pain

Chronic lower back pain involves any long-term lower back pain that lasts for at least 12 weeks or longer. Chronic lower back pain can be debilitating, especially if left untreated. Several nonsurgical and surgical treatment options are available depending on the exact type and cause of your lower back pain. Often, nonsurgical treatment options like medication, physical therapy, nerve ablation, and alternative medicines are used to manage chronic pain symptoms.

If these nonsurgical options are ineffective, surgical treatment options, depending on the specific individual and condition, could be a viable next step.

Inflammatory Lower Back Pain

Inflammatory lower back pain is a chronic back pain condition that typically occurs in those less than 40 years of age, with symptoms lasting more than 3 months at a time. This type of lower back pain is associated with spondyloarthritis, which is a type of arthritis that causes inflammation of the spine.

Common indicators of inflammatory lower back pain include:

• Early occurrence (in patients often under the age of 40)

• Localized pain in the lower back and/or buttock

• Chronic pain

• Pain felt at night and/or early morning

• Pain that improves upon taking OTC anti-inflammatory medications (ie. Advil)

Treatment of inflammatory lower back pain involves a series of nonsurgical options to relieve the pain symptoms. This includes physical therapy, medication, and various alternative therapies/medicines.

Referred Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain with referred pain can vary in terms of intensity. Oftentimes, this pain can feel dull and spread, as well as come and go in the body and varying levels of severity in each episode. Referred pain can either be felt at the injury site or away from the injury site (if you had

an accident or injury). For example, you may experience pain in your glute muscles that is caused by a disc issue in your spine.

Typically, referred lower back pain starts in the back and spreads into other areas like the groin, buttock, and upper thigh. Referred lower back pain is not as common as different types of lower back pain like axial or radicular pain.

When it comes to diagnosing referred lower back pain, this can be difficult as your brain will not be able to pinpoint a specific source of the pain. Therefore, evaluating specific patient history and a thorough physical exam can help diagnose referred pain to another pain type like radicular pain.

Referred lower back pain is treated with mostly nonsurgical techniques such as physical therapy, applying ice or heating pads, and/or medication to relieve your pain symptoms.

Axial Lower Back Pain

Axial pain, otherwise known as mechanical pain, occurs at a specific part of the back where a patient can specifically point to the source of the pain. Axial pain can widely vary. It can either be constant or come and go, dull pain, sharp pain, severe pain, or mild pain.

Axial pain is the most common type of lower back pain. The good thing about axial pain is it tends to resolve on its own and does not travel to other parts of the body. Several structures of the lower back can cause lower back pain from a degenerated disc to facet joint problems, and damage to either soft tissues, muscles, ligaments, and/or tendons.

Since a majority of axial lower back pain cases resolve in time (within about six weeks), nonsurgical techniques may be recommended to manage the pain during those six weeks. This may include physical therapy, applying ice or heat to the affected area, or using medications to provide pain relief.

Radicular Lower Back Pain

Radicular lower back pain is a pain that radiates from the back into your legs via your spine. The pain travels from the spinal nerve root and creates burning lower back pain. The leg pain felt from the radicular lower back pain can also involve other symptoms like numbness, muscle weakness, and tingling.

The cause of radicular pain is the spinal nerve being compressed or inflamed. The exact causes for the spinal compression may include several factors from a herniated disc, to foraminal stenosis, diabetes, nerve root injuries, and potentially scar tissue from spinal surgery.

Because of the radiating nature of this type of pain into the hip, back, and legs, this can make daily functioning and mobility difficult. As a result, this can greatly limit your everyday function from walking, sitting, standing, and more.

There are a variety of nonsurgical and surgical treatment options that can be used to treat radicular pain. Nonsurgical treatment options include physical therapy, OTC medications, epidural injections, and alternative therapies.

If nonsurgical treatment options are unsuccessful, surgical options like laminectomy or discectomy may be recommended.

Start Your Journey to Less Lower Back Pain Today

Lower back pain, regardless of the type, can make you feel uncomfortable and limit your quality of life. From being unable to do normal tasks without pain, to being woken up at night from sharp lower back pain, whatever the type of your lower back pain, you shouldn’t have to tolerate it alone.

At the Pain and Spine Specialists, Dr. Rao and our team of advanced pain specialists are here to provide you with comprehensive care for all your chronic pain needs. We know just how debilitating lower back pain can be. We also understand that no two patients are the same. That’s why we provide tailored treatment plans so we can provide you with effective treatment options to solve your pain issues.

If you’ve been struggling with lower back pain for some time, we can provide you with the care and support you need to better manage your pain symptoms. Contact us today so we can start your journey to improve your lower back pain.


What doctor to see for lower back pain?

Pain management specialists provide innovative, comprehensive care for all your chronic pain needs. The Pain and Spine Specialists provide several treatment options for chronic lower back pain sufferers. Contact us so we can help you reduce your chronic pain today.

Is there constant lower back pain treatment?

Yes. Although experiencing chronic, or constant lower back pain can feel debilitating, there are several constant lower back pain treatment options depending on your unique pain situation. This includes various nonsurgical and surgical options.
Nonsurgical options may include medications, alternative medicines (i.e. yoga, acupuncture), and physical therapy.

What causes lower back and knee pain?

The sciatic nerve (one of the spinal nerves) is a nerve that helps connect your lower back down through your leg and into your knee. If you’ve experienced some type of nerve degeneration or injury of the lower back and/or leg, this can cause sciatica which is intense pain from the lower back, down the leg, and into the knee.

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