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HealthInfo Canterbury

Other causes of low back pain

Although most low back pain will get better if you follow the advice in the previous pages, there are some other conditions that can cause it.

Nerve root pain (sciatica)

This is pain that starts in your back and spreads into your buttock and leg, sometimes down to your foot. Sometimes your leg will feel numb and lose strength. If you have these symptoms, you should see your GP, chiropractor, osteopath, or physiotherapist.

Prolapsed disc

Most nerve root back pain is caused by a prolapsed disc, often called a slipped disc. A disc does not actually slip, but it bulges out through a weakness in its wall and can press on a nerve nearby.

Often medication and changing the way you move makes the pain go away within three months to a year.

Cauda equina syndrome

This is a rare disorder where the nerves at the bottom of your spine are squashed (compressed). Cauda equina syndrome can cause severe low back pain plus problems with going to the toilet, numbness around your back passage or anus, and weakness in one or both legs.


See your health professional immediately if you have:

Other causes

These are rare and cause less than 1% of low back pain.


If arthritis is causing your back pain you will probably have pain that's worse in the second half of the night or after waking, and stiff back muscles that stay stiff more than 30 minutes after getting out of bed. See your GP.

Cancer or infection

If you have or have had cancer anywhere in your body, or have a poor immune system (for example you are on chemotherapy or have HIV/Aids) you should see a doctor.

Broken back (fractured spine)

If you have had a major accident or fall, with sudden back pain at the time, you should see a doctor. If you have osteoporosis, a small fall can cause a broken back. See your GP as soon as possible.

When should I see my GP?

As well as the times mentioned above, you should see your GP within a week if you have:

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Canterbury Initiative low back pain workgroup. Last reviewed March 2017.


See also:

Living with a health condition

Neck pain

Page reference: 103170

Review key: HILBP-103167