Lower back pain is extremely common, affecting millions of people every day. But what does it mean when the pain is felt only on one side? One-sided lower back pain could represent a minor issue that will heal on its own, or there could be a more serious underlying problem.
Tissue-Related Back Pain
Most instances of one-sided back pain are the result of a soft tissue problem, such as a muscle or ligament injury. Because the back muscles do not cross over the spine, pain tends to remain in the area of the injured tissue. Causes of tissue-related discomfort include sleeping with poor posture, sitting with poor posture for long periods, and overworking or stretching a muscle.
A variety of bone-related conditions can cause pain on only one side of the back. When the problem is with the lower back, the pain may travel down the leg or cause weakness. Typical issues responsible for this are arthritis, bone spurs, and spinal stenosis. Arthritis in the hip may cause a person to overcompensate with their other side, triggering lower back pain on the overworked side.
Internal Organ Problems
In rare cases, one-sided lower back pain occurs due to problems with the organs in the abdominal, mid-back, and pelvic regions. Usually, the cause is irritation, infection, or inflammation. Intestinal inflammation may result in cramping and digestive issues alongside back pain. Kidney issues often cause pain between the lower ribs and the hips.
Some one-sided back pain causes are specific to men and women. For example, males can experience testicular torsion if the spermatic cord in the scrotum twists, reducing or entirely cutting off blood flow to a testicle. Testicular torsion causes groin pain that radiates to the lower back. Which side it spreads to depends on the affected testicle.
Many conditions affecting the uterus and female sex organs can also trigger one-sided lower back pain. Endometriosis is a painful condition affecting the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. The pain can sometimes radiate up one side of the lower back. Fibroids can also cause similar pain. Additionally, lower back pain is common during pregnancy and may affect only one side.
Signs of an Emergency
Unless a fall or similar incident occurs before the back pain develops, there likely is not a medical emergency. However, if major symptoms develop alongside the back pain, visit a doctor or head to the emergency room. Some common red flags are:
- Pain that does not improve after 10 days
- Numbness, tingling, or weakness
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Pain that is severe or debilitating
- Weight loss
Maintaining a healthy diet and avoiding smoking can help prevent lower back pain, regardless of the cause. Regular low-impact exercise can improve muscle strength and endurance, reducing the risk of injury. Additionally, actively avoid any motions that may damage the soft tissues in the back. This includes excessive twisting, improper lifting, and poor posture.
Certain factors can dramatically increase the risk of lower back pain. As people age, their muscles weaken and their joints experience more wear and tear, making back injuries more common. Excess weight places extra stress on the back. Athletes who regularly participate in intensive activities are also more likely to damage their bodies. Conditions like depression and anxiety are linked to a greater risk of back pain.
Home treatments for one-sided lower back pain can help alleviate the issue while the body heals. Icing the affected area and then warming it can dramatically reduce the pain. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may also help. Regular rest, excluding long periods of bed rest, allows the body to recover without any risk of straining the area.
Doctors treat one-sided lower back pain by managing the condition that initially triggered it. If the pain is the result of tissue damage, physical therapy with painkillers or muscle relaxants is often effective. Steroid injections help combat inflammation and antibiotics fight infections. More serious issues may require surgery or other intensive treatments.