Pain

Why does my back ache?

Pinpointing the cause can be challenging, but it can steer your next steps.

By , Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch
  • Reviewed by Toni Golen, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing; Contributor

photo of a mature woman holding a hand on her lower back due to pain

You repeatedly lifted your 30-pound grandchild over the weekend, and today you're paying for it β€” your lower back throbs. Welcome to a very large club: an estimated 84% of Americans cope with lower back pain at some point in their lifetime.

While nearly every major movement we make involves our back, not all back pain is created equal. Symptoms can vary widely, ranging from a dull, ongoing ache to intense, shooting pain or spasms. Sometimes we can pinpoint exactly when back pain struck β€” like after falling or hoisting a heavy object β€” but more often, nothing specific happened to trigger the pain.

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About the Author

photo of Maureen Salamon

Maureen Salamon, Executive Editor, Harvard Women's Health Watch

Maureen Salamon is executive editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch. She began her career as a newspaper reporter and later covered health and medicine for a wide variety of websites, magazines, and hospitals. Her work has … See Full Bio
View all posts by Maureen Salamon

About the Reviewer

photo of Toni Golen, MD

Toni Golen, MD, Editor in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch; Editorial Advisory Board Member, Harvard Health Publishing; Contributor

Dr. Toni Golen is a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, practicing in Boston. Dr. Golen completed her residency training at George Washington University Medical Center in 1995, and is an associate professor at Harvard Medical … See Full Bio
View all posts by Toni Golen, MD

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As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles.

No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.

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