What Causes Lower Back Pain on the Left Side?
If you are experiencing lower left back pain, you may be trying to figure out what’s causing it and how to make it go away. Here’s the lowdown on what can cause that kind of pain, how it’s typically diagnosed, and what your treatment options are, including chiropractic care.
If you are experiencing extreme back pain with any of the following symptoms or circumstances, you should think about visiting an urgent care facility or the emergency room to be safe:
- Pain that is so extreme you can’t carry on a conversation or focus
- Difficulty breathing
- Continued vomiting
- High fever or chills
- Concurrent abdominal or chest pain
- Blood in the urine or stool
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Painful urination, inability to urinate, or inability to defecate
- Sharp groin pain or groin numbness
- Signs of shock, such as pale, clammy skin, blue lips, and rapid heartbeat
- Dizziness, confusion, blurred vision, or loss of consciousness
- Loss of sensation in your extremities, weakness, or difficulty moving
- Significant trauma or head injury, especially with heavy bleeding
- Having a serious pre-existing medical condition, like heart disease or renal disease
- Pregnancy with any bleeding, rupture of the amniotic fluid, unusual pain, or heavy contractions
What Are Common Causes of Lower Left Back Pain?
Lower left back pain can be caused by both internal and external factors. Let’s look at both, so you have a better understanding of what might be precipitating your pain. Keep in mind that in some cases, lower left back pain can be caused by more than one thing, such as a sports injury exacerbated by driving or poor work ergonomics.
Exercise can sometimes cause lower left back pain if you overuse or crunch the left side of the body, which is common in sports that favor one side over another. This is especially true if there is bending and twisting involved (see below). Sports that are “sided” include:
- Racquet sports
- Baseball and softball
Exercise-related muscle pain is typically seen when you resume exercise after time off, try a new sport, or up your training level in an existing sport. Weekend warriors who sit in an office all day and only play sports on their days off are particularly susceptible.
Often exercise pain is related to inflammation or straining of muscle or soft tissue, however it is possible that it can also involve spinal column damage (see below).
Bending and Twisting
It’s not only sports that can cause bending and twisting-related lower left back pain. Working in the yard or garden, doing strenuous household chores, lifting small children, and repetitive labor can all cause back problems when done to excess or without proper form (e.g., using the large muscles of the thigh and the abdominals when lifting).
Lower back pain that results from bending and twisting can come on suddenly, such as when you lift something much heavier than normal, or it can develop gradually after a day or more of strain. Like exercise-related pain, this can involve soft tissue only, or it can include spinal column damage.
Fall or Trauma
A fall or trauma to your back, such as getting hit with a baseball, can easily cause lower left back pain if you strike your back in the process. These kinds of injuries are seen in sports as well as around the home and at work, including falls on the stairs, in the tub, and on icy sidewalks.
Usually, you know what caused back pain in this type of injury. However, be aware that you don’t even need to fall in some circumstances to hurt your back; if you start to slip, you may brace yourself trying to prevent a fall and hurt yourself that way.
Lower left back pain can result from driving, whether you drive a bit too much every day or simply take one long drive, such as for vacation. People who drive as part of their jobs, like delivery and salespeople, are particularly prone to driving-related back problems, as are people who drive in stop-and-go traffic with a manual transmission that requires a lot of time on the clutch.
Lower left back pain from driving can involve the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back all the way down each leg. Therefore, the pain may also be felt in the buttocks, the legs, and the outside of the ankle.
Poor Work Ergonomics
Pain from poor work ergonomics is often symmetrical, but it can be focused on the lower left back if you favor one side more than another. This can include:
- Sitting with your legs crossed
- Using a chair with poor lumbar support
- Performing repetitive motions with one hand (using a mouse or a talking on the phone, for example)
- Twisting to perform tasks (like constantly reaching for a printer or phone)
- Standing for long periods at work
This type of back pain typically comes on gradually, but you may see it appear suddenly if something changes in your work environment or duties.
Sleeping in the Wrong Position
Have you ever awakened after a deep sleep to find your back or neck hurts? Sleeping in the wrong position can definitely cause lower left back pain, especially if you maintain that position for hours on end or fall asleep outside your bed, such as on a sofa or chair. Having the wrong sleeping surface may contribute to this type of back pain as well.
Spinal Column Damage
You can have damage to your spinal column that can cause lower left back pain too. Sometimes this damage is related to one of the issues listed above, while in other instances it exists on its own. Three of the most common types of spinal column damage that cause lower back pain include:
- Sacroiliac joint dysfunction: inflammation of the sacroiliac joint where your spine meets your pelvis
- Herniated lumbar disc: a bulge in one of the cushioning discs in the lower spine
- Facet joint osteoarthritis: arthritis in the cartilage between the bones and ligaments of the spine
Although sometimes you may suddenly have lower back pain from spinal column damage, this is normally less of an acute condition and more one that comes on slowly over time.
Bowel Disease or Impaction
Chronic bowel disease, most often ulcerative colitis, as well as impaction of the bowel can precipitate lower left back pain. When the colon (large intestine) is involved, this part of the back may also hurt. While bowel impaction involves severe constipation because nothing is moving through the colon, ulcerative colitis usually involves back pain plus these symptoms:
- Rectal pain
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain
Pregnancy can cause lower back pain, especially as the fetus grows and pulls on the mother’s body. The position of the baby can also cause pain, as tiny hands and feet or the head of the baby press on the back of the uterus. Poor core strength, overexertion, unsupportive footwear, and standing for long periods can provoke or exacerbate lower left back pain. When contractions start before delivery, back pain can also occur.
Multiple gynecological conditions can cause lower left back pain. In addition to menstruation and ovulation, which can cause predictable and transient lower back pain, fibroids and endometriosis can also cause lower left side pain.
Endometriosis is when excess uterine tissue grows outside the uterus. This usually involves abdominal pain, painful menstrual cycles, and fatigue. Fibroids are benign lesions growing inside the uterus that also cause frequent urination, painful intercourse, and abnormal menstruation.
Your kidneys are located in the right and left flank area, towards the back of your body. Kidney infections start elsewhere in the urinary system, such as in the bladder, and progress to the kidneys, usually when left untreated or inadequately treated with antibiotics. Other symptoms of a kidney infection besides back pain include:
- Painful urination
- Hip pain
- Pain that gets worse with movement or pressure
Kidney stones form when the urine can’t dilute crystal-forming elements like calcium fast enough or when the urine isn’t able to prevent crystals from joining to form larger stones. Pain from a kidney stone may be caused by a stone moving inside a kidney or when a stone travels through a ureter, the tube that connects your bladder to your kidney on each side.
Kidney stones can cause terrible lower left back pain, as well as painful urination, inability to urinate, nausea, vomiting, and blood in the urine. If you can actually see blood in your urine, that is known as gross or macroscopic hematuria. You can also have blood in your urine that cannot be seen with the naked eye, AKA microscopic hematuria.
Your pancreas produces insulin to regulate sugars in your bloodstream, and it also makes digestive enzymes to break down food. Pancreatitis can be caused by numerous factors, including certain medications, like lactase for lactose intolerance. It is characterized by dull back pain in the lower left side that often gets worse with eating, especially after consuming high-fat foods.
How Is Back Pain Diagnosed?
The diagnosis of back pain begins with a questionnaire about the patient’s activities, lifestyle, and medical conditions. As you can see from the list above, multiple factors can cause lower left back pain, so your physician or chiropractor will try to narrow down what could be factors in your situation.
Because chiropractors specialize in the treatment of the back problems, they are often skilled at asking the right questions to get started on the right path. Typical questions include:
- When did the pain begin? What were you doing at the time?
- What makes it feel better or worse?
- What kind of pain is it? Is it sharp and knife-like or dull and throbbing?
- Where is the pain located? Does it radiate anywhere else?
- How severe is the pain? You may be asked to rate it on a scale of 1-10.
- Does the pain come and go, or is it constant?
- What kind of exercise do you do?
- Do you spend a lot of time sitting, standing, driving, etc.?
- What kind of mattress do you use? How is the quality of your sleep?
- Do you have any medical conditions, or are you pregnant?
- What medications or supplements do you take?
- What else might be relevant to your pain?
A physical exam is also important. A chiropractor or other practitioner will want to palpate (touch) the area to see if it provokes the pain and where the pain is located. They will want to see if it limits other mobility. They may want to check your vital signs or check for concurrent pain elsewhere, like in your abdomen.
Sometimes medical imaging is also necessary to see what’s going on inside the body. This can include x-rays (radiographs), ultrasound, or a CT scan, many of which are used by both chiropractors and medical doctors these days. Blood tests may be necessary as well, such as in cases of suspected pancreatitis.
What Are Your Lower Back Pain Treatment Options?
Fortunately, there are many non-invasive treatment options available today, and only rarely is surgery necessary for pain in the lower back. Treatment is based on the practitioner’s diagnosis and may include any of the following:
- Rest and avoidance of the activity linked to the pain
- Ice or heat therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Massage therapy
- Ergonomic assessment
- Stretching or yoga
- Working with a skilled personal trainer
- Physical therapy sessions
Have you been suffering from lower left back pain? Don’t let pain become a habit or rule your life. Contact True Spine Chiropractic today. We are here to help get to the bottom of your back pain, so we can treat it and let you get back to living life at its fullest!