What does it mean to throw out your back?


When a person experiences sudden, sharp back pain, they may say that they "threw out" their back. But what does that really mean? A thrown-out back can refer to muscle aches, shooting or stabbing pain, pain radiating down your legs or limited range of motion in your back. By understanding the causes of this kind of back pain, you can take steps to prevent or relieve it.

Sudden back pain is often triggered by some sort of activity, whether it be gardening, shoveling or bending over to pick something up off the floor. Common ways you might throw out your back include the following. 

  1. Heavy lifting or a sudden awkward movement can cause muscle or ligament strain. If you're not physically active, putting consistent pressure on your back can cause painful muscle spasms.
  2. Bad posture, injury and repeated lifting can cause bulging and herniated discs. Discs cushion the bones in your spine, and when one bulges or ruptures, it can press on your spinal nerves and cause pain.
  3. Osteoarthritis can affect your lower back, causing the space around your spinal cord to narrow. This is called spinal stenosis.

Anyone can develop back pain, but there are certain factors that can put you at greater risk of developing it.

The first of these factors is age. The older you get, the more likely it is you'll experience back pain, starting in your 30s or 40s. Lack of exercise can also cause your muscles to become weak and susceptible to injury or pain. Maintaining strength in your core/abdominal muscles is also key to preventing back injury. Being overweight put extra stress on your back, and smoking withholds nutrients from your spinal discs. If any of these conditions applies to you, you may be at risk of developing back pain and should work toward a solution with your healthcare provider.

Most back pain improves when it's treated at home with rest, stretching, heat and/or ice. If you haven't felt any improvement within two weeks, schedule an appointment with your healthcare provider. If you're experiencing back pain that causes new bowel or bladder issues, comes with a fever or follows a fall or blow to your back, see a provider immediately. You should also see your provider if your pain is severe, spreads down one or both legs, causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both of your legs or comes with unexplained weight loss. Finally, make sure to see your provider if you start having back pain for the first time after the age of 50, or if you have a history of cancer, osteoporosis, steroid use or drug or alcohol use.

If you suffer from prolonged or frequent back pain, contact Goshen Physicians Orthopedics and Sports Medicine. We can help minimize your back pain and maximize recovery. For more information about how we can treat your back pain, call (574) 534-2558.