Lower back pain may happen suddenly or develop gradually, and it is sometimes the direct result of a fall or other injury¹. Pain in your lower back is typically a sign of stress or injury to your ligaments, muscles, tendons, or discs, and it may be quite uncomfortable.
Lower back pain can interrupt your routine and affect your overall quality of life. It's, therefore, understandable for you to wonder about how long lower back pain lasts.
Unfortunately, there is no typical healing period for lower back pain because the reasons for the ailment are many and varied. Recovery timeframes can vary significantly between individuals depending on factors such as:
The underlying cause of the pain
The type of injury
The severity of the injury
Other activities that may be exacerbating the injury
The kind of treatment completed
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The back is made up of the spine, nerves, muscles, and tendons and, therefore, the specific cause for pain in this part of the body is not always clear. Most instances of lower back pain are mechanical or non-organic. Mechanical lower back pain means that the pain originates from the spine or its supporting structures instead of from something more serious such as inflammation (e.g. rheumatoid arthritis), infections, fractures, or cancer.
Some lower back pain is temporary and self resolves, while others might require medical attention. If you experience lower back pain for more than a month, you should see your primary care practitioner about it.
Depending on how long the pain lasts, lower back pain can be classified as follows:
Acute lower back pain
The pain lasts for a period of a few days up to four weeks. It usually subsides on its own as the body heals. Whilst most acute lower back pain episodes are short-lived, some continue to experience pain for a prolonged period.
Subacute lower back pain
The pain lasts from four to twelve weeks. Here, you should seek medical intervention for your lower back pain.
Chronic lower back pain
The pain lasts for more than twelve weeks and can be quite severe.
Lower back pain is often relatively mild in intensity and does not interfere with your ability to perform everyday tasks.
It may be caused by minor injuries such as sprains or strains. A lower back sprain or strain may occur abruptly or develop progressively over time due to repeated motions in the lower back.
Strains occur when a muscle is stretched and rips, resulting in permanent damage to the muscle.
Sprains occur as a result of overstretching that damages the ligaments which link your bones together.
The following are some of the most common causes of sprains and strains:
Carrying a heavy item or twisting your spine when lifting
Random motions that exert an excessive amount of stress on your low back, such as falling
Bad posture for extended periods
Sporting injuries — especially in contact sports
While sprains and strains may not be life-threatening and do not normally cause long-term lower back pain, the acute pain they create can be quite intense. The pain can last longer if you continue performing rigorous activities that prolong the healing of the sprains and strains.
Some of the potential causes for lower back pain that can last for weeks include:
Lumbar herniated disc
The jelly-like core of a lumbar disc can burst through the thick outer covering and irritate a nerve root in the surrounding area.
Degenerative disc disease
Degenerative disc disease (DDD) is characterized by low-level chronic pain interspersed with periods of more acute pain. DDD is a prevalent cause of lower back pain, particularly as you age.
Sudden, sharp pain that intensifies with movement might result from spontaneous muscle spasms around the spine. Spasms may increase the occurrence of inflamed or irritable muscles.
Narrowing the gaps inside the spine may compress your spinal cord and nerves. Walking or standing for extended periods may also cause discomfort or tightness in the legs.
Facet joint dysfunction
You'll find two facet joints behind each disc at each motion segment of your lumbar spine. They contain cartilage between the bones and are encircled by a capsular ligament densely innervated by nerves, which gives them their name. Disc pain may occur alone or in combination with these joints, making them very painful.
Your pain may result from acute fractures or dislocations of your spine. If you have lower back pain that arises after a traumatic event such as a car accident or a fall, you should seek medical attention right away.
You should consider seeing a health care provider if your lower back pain does not resolve with simple measures or if it is prolonged, as this could mean that there might be a more serious underlying cause.
Most people find significant improvement in their lower back pain within a month of home care. Each sufferer, however, is unique, and lower back pain can be a difficult condition to deal with. Many people have acute and subacute types of lower back pain and about 20%² will develop chronic lower back pain with symptoms persisting for a year.
Seek treatment as soon as possible if you are experiencing lower back pain alongside any of the following symptoms:
Intense and prolonged pain
Trouble walking or moving your legs
Lack of bowel and bladder control
Numbness or weakness, especially in the legs
Other troubling symptoms
Your doctor will help determine the probable reasons for your lower back pain and provide appropriate treatment recommendations.
Due to the sheer intricate nature of your lower back, even minor injuries to any section of the lumbar region may result in significant pain and discomfort.
Lower back pain may be caused by mechanical reasons (due to the spine and its supporting structures), or something more serious such as an infection, bone damage, tumor development, or inflammatory illnesses such as spondylitis or osteoarthritis.
Although lower back pain is a common issue that often resolves on its own with time, you may need to schedule a consultation with your doctor in some cases. The amount of time it takes your lower back pain to recover depends on its cause and the severity of the pain. Minor episodes heal within a few days, while chronic pain might last for many weeks before it subsides. Rigorous physical activities may also aggravate your lower back pain and prolong the healing time.
It is important to remember that everyone recovers at a different pace.