Burning back pain is a common description used by my patients to describe their lower back pain symptoms. There is no single problem that leads to feelings of back pain, many different things can cause this symptom. There are three main causes of lower back pain (1)
Most of us with back pain have the first, most common problem – non-specific lower back pain.
This type of back problem can be caused by any number of different things including strained joints, muscle spasm, changes of age in the joints and tissues and postural stress and strain. All of these can cause a sensation of burning lower back pain.
The international association of the study of pain describes pain as:
‘An unpleasant emotional and sensory experience related to actual or potential tissue damage.’(2)
I wish I could say ‘if you have burning back pain then you must have x, y or z the matter. Unfortunately it’s not that simple because everyone’s experience of pain is different. I may have a back muscle spasm that feels like a burning lower back pain to me but the same problem may feel very different to you.
Pain is always subjective, we each learn about pain from our own personal experiences of it through our lives, which is why your pain is different to mine. So, any lower back problem can cause a feeling of burning back pain.
If you came to see me in my physiotherapy practice I would ask you to describe what your pain feels like as this may give me a clue as to the cause of the problem you have. It’s just one piece of the jigsaw puzzle and I would use it in combination with other bits of information too. But to keep things simple these are a few things I would be thinking about:
This very common cause of lower back pain is often experienced as a sudden pain that can be severe initially. This is the pain that many describe as ‘my back went’ or it ‘locked’. If you strain a joint or muscle in your lower back you will probably experience back muscle spasm. This occurs when the muscles surrounding the sore area tighten to try and give more support. This back muscle spasm can then become a cause of pain all by itself as the tight muscle becomes painful and has less of a blood supply passing through it. This can lead to a build up of pain producing chemicals which can cause a sensation of burning lower back pain.
Chronic longer term changes to the back ligaments, joints and discs can lead to ongoing back muscle spasm and symptoms of burning lower back pain. Chronic pain results from and causes changes in the central nervous system that alter how we process and feel pain – this ongoing pain is often described as burning back pain.
But not normally in the lower back. If you have an irritated nerve the pain is usually felt in the buttock or leg and foot. Inflammatory joint problems such as ankylosing spondylitis can also lead to these symptoms along with other rare but serious back problems.
As you can see it’s impossible to diagnose your back pain problem from just one symptom. I know it’s not easy for everyone to get the opinion of a qualified health care provider but you do need to see a doctor to get the correct diagnosis. When you are clear what the exact problem is there are a large number of different things you can do to actively manage your lower back pain.
More information about the causes of lower back pain, including burning back pain, can be found in this article.
1. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence Back pain - low (without radiculopathy) - Management. Clinical Knowledge Summary. Nov, (2009).
2. International Association for the Study of Pain | Pain Definitions.