We’ve all had back pain before. Sit too long at your desk, sleep in a weird position, or pull a muscle lifting a heavy box and you’ll have a sore back for a few days. But sometimes common back pain problems are more than just occasional annoyances.

If you have chronic and stubborn back pain, it could be something more severe. Here are some options to rule out and what to do about them.

Spinal stenosis

Sometimes people who complain of chronic back pain are actually suffering from a more serious condition called spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around your spinal cord narrows and puts pressure on your nerves.

There are a few symptoms in particular to look out for to determine if you’re suffering from spinal stenosis:

  • Pain in the lower back (rather than pain in the torso, between the shoulders, or in the neck)
  • Pain or other symptoms that worsen with physical activity
  • Leg cramps or heaviness in the legs
  • Difficulty walking downhill
  • Frequently bending forward to relieve the back pain

If you’re having three or more of these symptoms, talk to your doctor about spinal stenosis. He or she will likely perform a physical exam and possibly order an MRI to determine if spinal stenosis is the culprit. Spinal stenosis can be treated with physical therapy, a variety of medications, or surgery.

Kidney problems

Our kidneys are located in the same area where many people experience lower- or middle-back pain. So it’s easy to confuse back pain for kidney pain. In particular, kidney problems usually come with these symptoms:

  • Chronic pain in one specific area of the back, especially to left or right of the spine, above your hips
  • Pain that comes with a fever, vomiting, and/or chills
  • Severe pain that comes and goes in waves
  • Pain after exercise
  • Painful urination

If these symptoms sound familiar, your back pain may actually be a sign of a kidney problem. The likely culprit is kidney stones, but your doctor will also check you for a kidney infection. Both of these conditions can be treated. If it’s an infection, your doctor will probably prescribe a course of antibiotics. If kidney stones are the issue, you may need surgery to remove the stones. Talk to your doctor about your symptoms and options.

Endometriosis

Women are more likely than men to suffer from back pain. However, sometimes back pain can be exacerbated by endometriosis. Endometriosis occurs when the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus. This causes extreme discomfort and can irritate the uterine tissue and surrounding tissues.

Endometriosis is accompanied by:

  • Lower back and/or abdominal pain that gets worse during your period
  • Severe menstrual cramps
  • Pain due to sexual intercourse
  • Bowel movement pain
  • Pain in the pelvic area

Endometriosis is relatively common and can be treated with medications or surgery. If your back pain comes specifically during your menstrual cycle, talk to your doctor about the possibility of endometriosis.

Back pain is never fun. But sometimes it can be a symptom of a more serious condition.  Pay attention to your symptoms and communicate with your primary health care provider so you can finally get relief from back pain.

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