What Is Back Pain?

Back pain is one of the most common medical problems, affecting almost everyone at some time during their adult lives. Typically, it is discomfort in the lower part of the spine known as the lumbar region, which is the area between the bottom of the rib cage and the top of the hipbone.

In some cases, back-related pain may radiate into the legs, a condition known as sciatica. Some people experience pain in the upper back, neck or abdomen. If the pain lasts less than 3 months, it is labeled “acute.” Acute back pain accounts for 95 percent of all cases seen by doctors.

If the pain persists longer than 3 months, it is known as chronic back pain and is usually treated differently.

Chronic back pain is often a complicated condition which affects comparatively fewer patients, but accounts for the vast majority of the cost to society.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that cost to be up to $50 billion a year in the United States. The treatment for chronic back pain usually involves a team approach, with many types of healthcare professionals working together — from physicians to psychologists to vocational counselors. Acute and chronic back pain are very different conditions, and for that reason we will focus on the more common problem of acute back pain.