Advice and information for patients

Low back pain is soreness or stiffness in the back, between the bottom of the rib cage and the top of the legs.

In most people the pain is very unlikely to be caused by anything serious but may be due to a range of factors, including poor posture and muscle strains. Most single episodes of low back pain, approximately 75 to 90 per cent, recover within six weeks of onset.

What are the symptoms of lower back pain?

The level of pain can vary from person to person, from a niggle to more persistent aching. The main symptoms include:

  • Pain in the low back, buttocks or bottom of the rib cage

  • Stiffness or difficulty turning the head

Some people may also experience sciatica (also called nerve root or radicular pain). This is pain coming from a nerve in the spine and symptoms may include:

  • Pain into the legs

  • Tingling, pins and needles or numbness in the legs

What causes low back pain?

Low back pain may be caused by a sprain of a ligament or muscle or it may be due to a minor problem with the disc, joints or other soft tissues structures in the lower back. It is usually impossible to say exactly where the pain is coming from, or exactly what is causing the pain.

To some people, not knowing the exact cause of the pain is unsettling. However, what we do know is that the majority of people with low back pain do not have a serious problem or disease of the back or spine and that about 80 per cent of people experience low back pain at least once in their lifetime.

How is it diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made from a patient's history and a simple examination if required. Tests such as MRI scans are rarely needed for pain localized to the low back area only and may be advised only if there are symptoms to suggest that there may be a serious underlying cause for the symptoms.

How can I manage my back pain?


Sedentary and inactive lifestyles increase the risk of developing pain in your back and can also delay your recovery. Being active for 30 minutes in your day can make a big difference in your overall health and improve your pain.