Know These Lower Back Pain Facts First

Learn some of the many different causes, exercises, special stretches, pain relief, and treatment options

Does Localized Lower Back Pain Indicate a Serious Problem?

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Lower back pain is common.  However, there are instances when this discomfort could be the result of more serious health issues.  Knowing some of the different causes can help you determine if you need immediate medical attention.

Characteristics of Pain

There are different characteristics that describe pain.   Pain can be different in intensity, type, timing, and location.  Doctors will sometimes use the LOCATES pain scale to help you describe the lower back painpain to ensure the most accurate information is collected to ensure a more precise diagnosis.

LOCATES stands for….

  • Location
  • Other Symptoms
  • Character
  • Aggravating and Alleviating Factors
  • Timing
  • Environment
  • Severity

Your doctor will ask where the pain is located.  Is it on your left side, middle, or right side?  Does it travel to other areas of your body or does it remain in one area?  Other symptoms can include numbness, nausea, and/or weakness.

The character section of the scale consists of determining whether it is throbbing, dull, sharp, or burning.  The aggravating and alleviating factors consist of determining what improves or worsens your pain.  Does the pain lessen when you rest or does it worsen when you bend over?  These are just a couple questions your doctor may ask you.

The timing of your pain is important.  How long has the pain lasted?  Is it constant or does it come and go at different times?  The length of time will determine if it is acute or chronic.  The most common is acute pain that lasts a few days up to a few months.  Chronic pain generally lasts a few months and can even last for years.

The environment is where an incident happened that could have caused the discomfort.  Did something specific happen at work, at home, or in any other area?  Severity is how intense the pain is.  The majority of the time your doctor will ask you to rank the intensity from 0 to 10.

Common Causes for Left Side and Right Side Lower Back Pain

Most of the causes for pain in these areas are similar.  For example, when you suffer from a kidney infection, you could actually experience pain in either the left or right side depending on which side the kidney is infected.

Here are some common causes for pain in the lower sides of the back:

  • Injury
  • Lumbar Strain
  • Pregnancy
  • Breathing Pain
  • Muscle Imbalance
  • Herniated Disc
  • Sciatic Nerve Compression
  • Osteoporosis
  • Spondylolysis
  • Kidney Stones
  • Kidney Infection
  • Poor Posture
  • Poor Form during Exercise
  • Heavy Lifting
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
  • Quadratus Lumborum Trigger Points
  • Cauda Equine Syndrome

The most common causes for pain in either the lower right side or left side are injury and lumbar muscle strain.  However, there are a number of different reasons to consider.  Lumbar strain is microscopic tears of the fiber in your tendons, ligaments, or muscles.  This often results in favoring a specific side. Muscle imbalance can be the result of tightness and inflammation in your muscles and tissues.  They can put pressure on the nerves resulting in soreness.

When you are suffering from a kidney infection or kidney stones, you will feel tenderness in the area above your hips.  You will likely experience burning when you urinate.  Contact your physician right away if you have a fever or notice blood in your urine.

When your discs bulge, pressure is put on the nerves.  This can result in compression of the sciatic nerve causing severe pain from your lower back to your buttocks down your leg.  This is almost debilitating.

You may experience achiness on your lower left/right side during pregnancy.  When your uterus expands, the gravity of your body will shift.  Your abdominal muscles will stretch and weaken during this time.  Your posture could change straining your lower back.  If you experience more severe pain, this could be the result of your uterus pressing on a nerve.  Your joints and ligaments that are attached to your pelvic bone could loosen.  This could cause pain while sitting, standing, and walking for longer periods.

There are a few reasons why you could be experiencing pain when you breathe.  Muscle spasms can be an indicator of a pulled diaphragm muscle causing radiated pain throughout your abdomen, back, and chest.  More serious causes include cardiac and/or pulmonary issues.  Because you cannot diagnose this problem without testing, it is highly recommended that you talk to your doctor.

Sacroiliac joints are paired joints that are located between the sacrum and hip bones in the lower back.  Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction occurs when there is too much or too little movement within either of these joints.  Too much movement could result in a lax or sprained joint.  Too little movement could result in a locked or hypo-mobile joint.  The balance of your pelvis can be affected and can cause pain in either side depending on which side is affected.

Quadratus Lumborum muscle trigger points can cause pain in both sides depending on which side is affected.  This is a quadrilateral shaped paired muscle.  It helps to maintain your body’s posture.  There are trigger points or hyper-irritable knots located within a tight band of muscle.  This pain can cause reduced range of motion in that particular muscle.

Cauda Equine Syndrome occurs when the spinal cord is directly compressed and disc material expands into the spinal canal thus compressing the nerves.  This is a serious condition and can cause permanent damage if not treated.


Although the causes for lower back pain cannot be truly determined without testing and proper diagnosis from a doctor, there are some specific reasons for pain in the sides rather than in the middle of your lower back.   If the pain persists, it is important to visit your doctor.  If you gather the information based on the LOCATES scale, you will be able to give the information necessary to ensure a more accurate diagnosis.

34 Responses to “Does Localized Lower Back Pain Indicate a Serious Problem?”

  • Anna Khan says:

    I have pain down my right side lower part moves to my middle lower back and my right leg too.

  • Kelly says:

    I’ve exsperienced severe back pain in the middle of my back left and right side for the last 4 months I’ve had 2 scans blood tests all clear I am on pain killers that take the edge of but some days I can’t walk or move for hours the doctors can’t find any thing and I’m getting more upset I can’t do any thing I have 2 young children and I had a twin pregnency could this be something to do with it ?
    So horrible
    Please help

    • Marcy says:

      I wish a Dr. Could help you. I know you have your hands full. But it will get better. Sound like the twins may have had something to do with it. Sweet little things. When I had my son, he weighed 10 lbs. 1 oz. When I was putting him in bed, my back just went out and I just fell back in chair. Had to relax for a bit and rest. Had trouble for awhile but evidently muscles in back grew stronger over time. No trouble at all now. This may be your pain, where you carried weight so long. Since they cannot find internal problems, it just might be muscles in back tightening up. If you do not get better find another Dr. And I hope and pray they will help you.

  • tia newton says:

    ive been havin pain in my right side lower bk for a few years now but as years have gone by its got worse its a throbbing and heavy pain if im honest im too scared to go tell my gp as my dad had kidney disease is it would that make me high risk ??

  • aries says:

    Hi I need help 2 weeks now I suffer my pain lowerback near waistline on left sise..its pain sometimes sharp sometimes numbs alternate in timei feel r the pain.but unusual for me this kindvof pain.hard to bend my body its too much pain ..I walk like heavy my buttocks. My urine is normal but I go more often to go wc to urinate..color light yellow .plsss I need your help what im goinng to do ? Is this a symtoms on any seriuos sickness..? Thank u god bless…

    • monica says:

      I am going through the same thing i know exactly how you feel. You are not alone. god bless you

    • debra says:

      Omg…i hsve the same thing. Any luck?

    • Janie says:

      me too…but i’m going to see my doctor. I’ve had it for a month. nice to konow i’m not alone.
      Mine started with a very sharp pain in my left side. But the pain now is also sometimes in the right. It is worse when i stand or walk..i know what you mean about the heaviness. I just retired and this is ruining my fun 🙁

      • Brandi says:

        What did you find out Janie? I am having these same symptoms and went to the walkin clinic this morning but they said they could not treat me that I had to see an Orthopedic doctor. The earliest appointment I could get is this Friday and I am in horrible pain. Plus I am supposed to leave Saturday to go on a cruise for my honeymoon. Need help!! ASAP!!!

  • Mercy Paul says:

    Am havig lower back pain at the left side, the pain is very mild sometimes not noticable and sometimes get on d high side but not very painful, but makes me very uncomfortable nd sometimes weaken my left leg. These has been going on 4 more than a yr nw, at 1st i didnt pay attention 2 it cos it was mild nd comes nd go, but its recently becoming a constant thing.. Pls i dont knw wat 2 do.

  • Kayla Coberly says:

    I’m 38w5d and I’m having a dull/sharp pain that comes and goes from the middle to lower part of my back on just the left side

  • sueholpin says:

    That last one (Mercy Paul) sounds like sciatic pain. I suffered this during one of my pregnancies. Pain occasionally shoots down your leg/feels weak. Physiotherapist did deep tissue treatment (thumb pressed and held deep into the muscle in my left buttock, to be precise). I felt the muscles relaxing as she did it. They had been inflamed and pressing on the nerve. It sorted it out pretty much then and there. Good luck with it.

  • ScoRum says:

    I’m a 51 year old white male. During the past 6 months I’ve had lower back pain that moves a little from the lower left to lower right, and sometimes doesn’t hurt at all. Lately, after learning some stretches (ergoscue) my lower back feels great . . . . but now I’ve had upper back and chest pain that moves from side to side and varies in severity. Especially bad the past few days since I have a chest cold and coughing is painful. A coupe times during the past 6 months I’ve also found a slight stiff neck on one side that gradually shifts to the other side and eventually dissipates. My doctor’s reaction? “It’s the age.” An answer I don’t particularly subscribe to since I know plenty of folks my age and older that don’t have these pains. I’m a music teacher that is fairly active, in good physical shape otherwise. Any help?

  • Brittany says:

    I have been having very sharp pains in my lower left back right above my left buttock. It feels almost like some sort of strain but it only occurs during certain movements like bending over or when I sit up after lying down. It’s excruciating pain and so very annoying. It feels like something is being pinch. Maybe a nerve or something? It’s been going on for a few months now. Does anyone know what it sounds like it could possibly be? Is it fixable? It occurs everytime my upper body’s muscles are being used to sit up or even lay back down. If anyone has ever experienced this and has any advice please share!

    • kelly says:

      Hey, got up this morning, and I felt like I was lifting weights with my back right above my left and right buttocks on the side, and in the back. I think you said its worse when you stand up yeah for me too. you know what I believe, at least for me. just had a physical everything was good not well not just but in November 2014, my numbers were all good, blood urine all good. but I’ve been sweeping a lot I have wooden floors in my house and they’re all screwed up, and I’ve been sweeping bending over, sweeping it in the tray, standing up throwing it away so I believe its muscle strain. maybe it’s different for you but you know that’s an idea for you. I hate to see people in pain, I’ve gone through two knee replacements, my right hip is replaced and I’m just hoping it is muscle strain I just put something on and I’ll let you know and you keep me updated if you go to the doctor okay. you know just FYI painkillers with acetaminophen or ibuprofen like vicodin 10 over 325 blah blah blah that’s bad for you I think
      anyway. I mean, if I were you, I would try to just get like 5 or 10 milligram gram roxys. You know the old school ones small ones just with complete medicine, no other crap I don’t believe in non narcotic painkillers,I just don’t. too many side effects 1 800 bad drug that’s what I call non narcotic painkillers. Like I said, if U want, keep in touch with me Brittany, curious about your condition I’ll let you know if mine go away I m no sweeping for a while .
      Feel better!!

  • abhinash singh hamal says:

    I had pain in my lower back side first and now along wid it i have pain on both my lower abdomen as well.. wt may b d rsn??,?

  • Bryan says:

    I’ve had two surgeries on my lumbar , L-4 , L-5 , S-1 fusion with two rods and 5 screws. It happened from a fall and I experienced pain down my left leg and my left testicle felt like someone was yanking on it. The surgery helped my leg and groin pain. 15 years has passed and I just suffered an injury to my right side , with the exact symptoms to groin and leg. I tried all the injections with no relief (Injections have never worked for me). I have been told I need a stenosis surgery to clean the canal to widen the canal. I have an appointment with Dr. Alexander Vaccaro at Rothman Institute in Philadelphia. I thought when I had the fusion done , I would never experience groin or leg problems even on the opposite side. I guess the pain is coming from another disc , like L-1. I Will find out March 3rd what my options are.

  • Jeffrey says:

    I have lower right and left back pain, sometimes it is so bad I cannot get out of bed, I do have a spinal injury from 2 years ago, but this pain on both sides came about 1 week ago, it get worse when I try to sleep and get up each morning, very painful.

  • Judy Doll says:

    For two years I have had pain on my left side. It is in my hip muscle and also if I press right above my waist on the left side of my back it puts a pain down to my hip. I have had a shot in my SI joint without very little relief. I have also gone to a chiropractor which doesn’t seem to help. I really don’t know what else to do. The MRI a year ago showed some stenosis but not bad enough for surgery

  • embee says:

    I have pains on both sides of my back..the hip areas. I thought UTI was the cause but I don’t hace problem in urinating or discomforts. Don’t have fever or experience vomiting. Nor blood in my urine.
    I remember I started exercising the other day Could this be just muscle pains? I am suffering for three days now. Help. !

  • I have severe pain in my lower left back side . The pain triggered when i walk 50 meters and beyond, whem i stand for mpre than 5 minutes, whem i go to cold places like the mall. The strange thing is the pain disappears when I sit down. I had this condition for 8 years now. I tied traction and stretching and nothing seems to work. MRI shows slight bulging of disc between 4th and 5th lumber. I had 2 months physical therapy including sessions in traction machine but no pain alleviation even slightly. What could be my problem and what treatment to follow? thanks for your advise. …..alan

  • Bryan says:

    Just know….those injections that doctors offer , like epidural injections , ARE NOT FDA approved. And a doctor can take a weekend course to perform them. If injected in a wrong area , the pain is more than anyone can imagine.
    Research and look on youtube of people who had received injections and had negative results.
    I have had facet blocks , epidurals etc , with zero success. And I won’t get them ever again.
    Good luck

  • michael says:

    hi, I am having pain in my right lower back area near the top of my hip. it hurts constantly but is at its worse when I get out of bed in the morning. standing straight up is the hardest and most painful. after standing up the pain eases but is still there. while in the process of standing up it hurts worse if I move my right leg or lift the right leg off the floor. getting up off the toilet is very painful. this pain is localized in one spot. my leg does not hurt its just in the one spot. while bending or standing up it is very painful. very sharp pain. anyone with this pain that can offer any insight is greatly appreciated. thank you

    • Kelly says:

      I have been having lower back pain for some time now, the other day I stopped in at my brothers who is a PA I asked him to look at my left side and explained my symptoms he told me my hips was out of line., so he had me stand up against the door and he took my left leg and slowly raised it up until it would start hurting and held it there for about 5 seconds he repeated this about 4 times then all at once he lifted it up real fast and high and immediately the pain stopped no kidding, so now when I start getting pain in my left side I have my husband do this and the pain goes away… Hope this helps

    • Sarah says:

      I have had exactly the same problem for around the last 6 weeks and mine is exactly the same as your whilst In bed and massive discomfort when getting out of bed in the morning. It eases in the day but it’s the same story everyday. I even turned my mattress on my bed and bought a mattress topper thinking that could be why but still worse than ever. Have you sought any medical advice yet? Thanks

    • Tiffany says:

      I’am having the same pain

  • Roxann says:

    I have had lower back pain on rite side I can feel something almost grinding or shifting my hips I had surgery on both bilateral little over a year.X rays show on my hips osteoarthritis arthritis. M@Y LOWER BACK HURTS SO BAD..I cannot drive more than 20 minutes without being in misery.what could the problem be?

  • ronica says:

    I’m hurting so bad when I inhale my right back area is hurting pl help

  • nic says:

    I have pain on my right side of the lower back together with my right leg.. is it cause by an injury? Because in the beginning of the year I injured my right side of my lower back….I don’t know if it heal properly but all I know the pain stop but now is happening again but together with my right leg…why is this happening? Help

  • Cindy Haning says:

    im having the same problem. i had it like two months ago n took motrin n it went away but now its back. any help would be greatly appreciated also.. thank u

  • joanna says:

    I have pain in my left and right lower back right now and have for the last two years it isn’t as bad in my left side but it hurts to much or breathe. No one believes me. Somebody help. Plz make the pain go away I am only 14 about to turn 15.

  • shannon weir says:

    I am having pain in my right side, back, left side and my hips so I went to the doctor he said it could be an infection due to my spleen being removed

  • Jennifer says:

    I experience pain in my back left side which makes it so uncomfortable to sit or Bend down pain then travels down my leg ive experienced this before bit thought I pulled my back Prior to this I was fine no idea eat brought it on

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