What Can Cause Lower Back Pain On The Left Side And Above The Buttocks

Most people will experience lower back pain on their left side at some point in their lives. Approximately 75–85% of Americans experience back pain¹ in their lifetime. Generally, this discomfort can be anything from a mild annoyance to debilitating pain, depending on its cause. This article delves into lower left back pain and its causes. 

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What is the pain on my left lower back and above the buttocks?

Pain in the lower back and pain that radiates into the buttocks can come from several parts of your body, including muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones (vertebrae), discs (cartilage between vertebrae), nerves, blood vessels, and skin.

Types of left side back pain

Three common types of back pain that can affect your left side include:

Acute pain comes on suddenly and usually only lasts for a short time. This type of pain is often caused by an injury, like a fall.

Subacute pain usually lasts for a few weeks to a few months. It may result from illness or injury.

Chronic pain is pain that lasts for more than three months. It usually stems from a long-term health condition, such as arthritis.

What causes lower back pain above the buttocks?

Many conditions can cause low back pain or pain radiating to your buttocks. These conditions commonly include:

A herniated disc

A hernia is a common cause of back and posterior pain. A low back hernia occurs when the soft inside of the lumbar disc between your vertebrae pushes out through a weak spot.

This injury might happen if there’s excessive stress on your back or when you’ve strained or overused the muscles in your lower back.

A 2021 study² reported that herniated discs are most common among 30–50 year-olds. The same study describes that roughly 5–20 hernia cases will happen annually, per every 1,000 adults, with twice as many men experiencing low back hernias as women.

Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis is a spinal column narrowing, resulting in pressure on the spinal cord or nerve roots. The cause for this can be degenerative disc disease (arthritis) or congenital disease (from birth). Also, the condition is relatively common in older adults and causes pain on the left side.

Sciatica

Sciatica is a condition that occurs when the sciatic nerve gets compressed. Your sciatic nerve is the largest and longest nerve in the body. It runs from your lower back to the hips and buttocks into each leg and down to each foot. Sciatica can result from nerve irritation, either from a herniated disc or another cause.

Spondylosis

Spondylosis is an age-related degenerative condition. With this condition, spurring develops on the vertebral body and can cause irritation to the nerve root as it exits through its bony canal. This inflammation causes pain that spreads into the lower back and one or both legs.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common type of arthritis. It’s a degenerative joint disease that causes the cartilage in the joints to wear away. OA can lead to pain, stiffness, and swelling in the low back. Osteoarthritis is more common in older adults but can occur in anyone at any age. 

Sacroiliitis

Sacroiliitis is inflammation of your sacroiliac (SI) joint. The SI joint connects your sacrum (a triangular bone at the base of the spine) to the ilium (uppermost part of the pelvis). Sacroiliitis can also cause pain on the left side of the back, buttocks, and down the leg.

Muscle strain/sprain

A muscle strain or sprain results from a muscle or ligament being overstretched or torn. It can occur from sudden trauma (such as a fall) or repetitive activities (like sports or heavy labor). The pain is usually local to the injured muscle or ligament in most cases.

Pregnancy

During pregnancy, the body undergoes many changes. These changes can include an increase in weight, a change in posture, more laxity in the pelvis to prepare for the baby's birth. This can place more stress on the ligaments in the lower back and result in pain. Back pain is also common during labor.

Endometriosis

Endometriosis is a painful disorder caused by endometrial tissue that has grown outside the uterus (instead of inside). Each month during the menstrual cycle, the misplaced tissue thickens and sheds. The result is often severe pain in the back, legs, lower abdomen, pelvic area, bladder, or rectum.

The risk factors of left back pain

Here are the risk factors for back pain.

Poor posture

A rounded shoulder and forward head posture are two of the most common postural problems leading to back pain. These postures stress the muscles and ligaments in the neck and back, leading to low back pain. 

Obesity

Being overweight can put added pressure on your joints and lumbar discs, resulting in more wear and tear on the lower back and subsequent pain.

Smoking

Smoking can severely limit your spine’s blood supply, causing it degenerate and break down more quickly.

Age

Older adults are at an increased risk of developing lower back pain because their discs and joints in the spine have had wear and tear.

Injury

People who injure their backs are at an increased risk of developing chronic back pain. This is because a back injury can damage the discs, ligaments, and muscles in the back, leading to long-term pain.

Fitness level

People who are not physically fit are also at an increased risk of developing back pain because they may be more susceptible to injury.

Genetics

Many of the conditions that can cause back pain are genetic. For example, a person's predisposition to developing osteoporosis results from their genetics. Other examples include sacroiliitis and spondylosis.

The diagnosis of left back pain

Below are the common procedures used to diagnose left-back and above-the-buttocks pain.

Electrodiagnostic tests

These are tests used to measure the electrical activity in muscles and nerves. Electrodiagnostic tests include:

The Nerve Conduction Velocity Test

This test³ measures the speed of electrical signals as they travel through a nerve. This can help determine if there is a problem with the nerve itself.

Electromyography (EMG)

This test measures the electrical activity of muscles, and it can help determine if there is a problem with the muscle or the nerve controlling the muscle.

Evoked potential tests

This group of tests measures the electrical activity in the brain in response to stimuli. These tests help determine a problem with the nerve transmitting signals from the brain to the spinal cord.

Imaging tests

X-rays

X-rays can help determine if the vertebrae are out of alignment or show other bone and tissues injuries.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

A CT scan identifies problems with the back's discs, ligaments, and muscles.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

This test uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of the inside of the body. An MRI is used to identify problems with the discs, ligaments, and muscles in the back.

Other tests

Several tests can be conducted to determine the root cause of left-back and above-the-buttocks pain. They include:

Bone scan

Bone scans help detect bone tumors and fractures.

Spinal tap (lumbar puncture)

A spinal tap is a procedure⁴ used to measure the spinal canal's pressure and test for infection or bleeding.

Blood test

A blood test can help determine if an infection could be contributing to your back pain.

Lumbar discography

Also known as a discogram⁵, this test is usually reserved for difficult-to-treat back pain and involves injecting a needle into lumbar discs. The patient then reports whether they feel pain, pressure, or nothing at all. 

Treatment for left back pain

There are a wide variety of treatments available, including:

Medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs

NSAIDs are used to relieve pain and inflammation. They include drugs such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin.

Over-the-counter topical pain relievers

Many creams, sprays, patches, and gels contain menthol, camphor, and eucalyptus ingredients. They are beneficial for providing temporary relief from pain and stiffness. The common ones include lidocaine, menthol, and capsaicin and can be purchased over the counter without a prescription.

Muscle relaxants

These drugs help to relieve pain and muscle spasms. They include medications such as cyclobenzaprine and tizanidine.

Opioid drugs

Opioids are for severe pain. They include medications such as morphine, hydrocodone, and oxycodone.

Physical therapy

Exercise

Exercises that strengthen and stretch the back muscles can help relieve pain.

Heat and cold therapy

Applying hot or cold packs to the lower back may ease muscle pain.

External stimulation

Ultrasound, electrical stimulation, and massage are examples of therapies that provide relief from pain.

Spinal Injections

This therapy involves the injection of numbing medication and steroid medication such as epidural corticosteroid⁶ into the area of pain. This can provide short-term relief, but it is not considered a long-term solution.

Self-management techniques

The concept of self-management traces its roots to Orem's theory⁷ and Bandura's Social Cognitive Theory on self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person's belief in their ability to impact their problems. Below are the self-efficacy actions to help alleviate lower back pain:

Surgery

If other treatments have failed to relieve back pain, surgery may be your doctor’s next recommendation. The type of surgery will depend on the underlying cause of the pain.

Alternative/holistic treatment options for left back pain

Alternative/ holistic methods include:

Acupuncture

This Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) technique involves inserting thin needles at different points on the body. This practice is believed to trigger the release of pain-relieving chemicals in the body.

Massage therapy

Massages are performed by trained therapists using different techniques, including stretching, kneading, and percussion. This is believed to relieve tension, increase blood flow, and relax your muscles.

Chiropractic therapy

Chiropractors manually adjust the joints in the spine to relieve pressure.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is a martial art that combines deep breathing and relaxation with slow and gentle movements. This is believed to improve flexibility, balance, and strength.

Preventing left back pain

Maintaining a healthy weight

Carrying excess weight puts undue stress on the back muscles and can lead to pain. Talk to your doctor about a weight loss plan if you are overweight.

Good posture

Posture refers to how you position your body. Poor posture can cause stress on the back muscles, leading to pain. Try keeping your shoulders down and relaxed and pulling your stomach in, as this will help support your back. Also, keep your knees slightly bent as you stand and keep your feet shoulder-width apart.

Yoga

Performing different yoga poses such as a downward dog or locust pose will stretch your lower back muscles and increase flexibility. This can help to strengthen your back and improve your range of motion.

Sleeping in an ergonomically designed bed

An ergonomically designed bed will help maintain the natural curve of your spine while you sleep. This can help reduce the number of times you wake up with pain in the morning.

Using back support

Back support is beneficial in keeping your back in a neutral position when sitting or standing. This can help to reduce stress on the muscles and prevent pain.

Avoiding bending and heavy lifting

This will prevent a strain on your lower back muscles, which could lead to back pain. Use a buddy system when performing heavy tasks, including moving furniture or carrying bags, as this can reduce the risk of strain or injury.

The lowdown

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to managing left back pain, and what works for you might not work for another individual. If you have tried one or more of the methods mentioned and have not found relief, be sure to talk to your doctor. They may recommend other treatments or refer you to a specialist.

  1. Low back pain | American Association of Neurological Surgeons

  2. Disc herniation (2021)

  3. Nerve conduction studies | Johns Hopkins Medicine

  4. Lumbar puncture | NHS

  5. Lumbar discography for back pain diagnosis | Spine Health

  6. Epidural corticosteroid injections | Johns Hopkins Medicine

  7. Orem self care model | Science Direct

Have you considered clinical trials for Lower back pain?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Lower back pain, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64


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