One of the most common complaints people go to the doctor about is back pain.

Back pain can occur when lifting heavy objects, or can occur throughout the day even without extensive activity.

This can either be some soreness that will resolve on its own in a few days or weeks, or this can be a more serious problem if it lasts longer than a few months.

Typically, the pain is caused by a condition known as sciatica, but can sometimes be caused by muscle strains or pulls or something more serious. Sciatica is pain affecting the back, hip and outer side of the leg, caused by compression of a spinal nerve root in the lower back.

Sciatica can be short-term, flare-up or chronic in nature and can be treated. Either way it hurts.

I have had patients with severe sciatica flare-ups that described the pain as “a strike of lightning” or “electric shock” each time they take a step. While back pain is not “normal,” it is common and there are A lot of things that influence this such as genetics, lifestyle, injury, disease, and wear and tear.

Back pain can usually be treated with conservative measures of ice/heat therapy, stretching and rest. Over-the-counter medications ibuprofen, Tylenol, and lidocaine patches can also provide pain relief.

Muscle pulls and strains are injuries or damage to muscle tissue. These can be stubborn and last up to six weeks before full recovery of the injured tissue. If mild to moderate pain and dysfunction persist after six weeks of conservative therapies, an appointment with your family doctor could be warranted. You could be suffering from herniated discs, pinched nerves or joint disease and need a more specialized treatment plan.

When having back pain, it is important to differentiate between nagging pain caused by the very common sciatica mentioned above and one of the few true emergencies with regards to back pain Cauda Equina Syndrome.

Cauda Equina Syndrome symptoms severe low back pain, weakness, numbness, pain in one or both legs, saddle anesthesia (unable to feel anything in the body areas that sit on a saddle), recent onset of urinary retention or incontinence, recent onset of bowel incontinence in a loss of reflexes in the extremities.

If you have any of these symptoms along with back pain, you should go to the emergency room immediately. This could be a surgical emergency that if left untreated can lead to permanent damage and dysfunction.

So just know back pain is not normal and if you are having a nagging pain or serious issues when standing, sitting and moving, I recommend you get it checked out.