Lower back pain can be caused by several conditions, many of which can affect people of any sex. In some cases, lower back pain may also be related to your menstrual cycle or other factors, including pregnancy or endometriosis.
Lower back pain in women has many potential causes. Some are related to conditions specific to women, while others can happen to anyone.
In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the possible causes of lower back pain in women, and when it’s important to follow up with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.
Some causes of low back pain are specific to women. These include the conditions listed below.
PMS is a condition many women get before their periods. It has many potential symptoms, and you likely won’t have all of them. Broadly, symptoms include:
- physical symptoms, such as:
- emotional and behavioral symptoms, such as:
- mood swings
- food cravings
- trouble concentrating
PMS usually starts a few days before your period, and it ends within a day or two after your period starts.
PMDD is a more severe form of PMS, where symptoms significantly interfere with daily life. Some people with PMDD may even have trouble functioning when they have symptoms. Fewer women have PMDD than PMS.
The emotional, behavioral, and physical symptoms of PMDD are similar to those of PMS. However, all types of symptoms may be worse. Symptoms typically start the week before your period and end a few days after you get your period.
You may be at increased risk for PMDD if you have a family history of depression and other mood disorders, or have a family history of PMDD.
Endometriosis is a condition where the tissue that lines the uterus, known as endometrial tissue, grows outside the uterus.
With endometriosis, this tissue often grows on the ovaries, fallopian tubes, and other tissues lining the pelvis. It may even grow around the urinary tract and bowel.
Pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis. Other symptoms include:
- very painful menstrual cramps
- pain during or after sex
- low back and pelvic pain
- pain with bowel movements or urination when you have your period
Endometriosis can also cause bleeding or spotting between your periods. Digestive issues like bloating and diarrhea can be common too, especially during your period. Endometriosis may make it harder for you to get pregnant.
Very painful menstruation is known as dysmenorrhea. Although it’s usually manageable, it can be very severe in some people. You may be at a higher risk for dysmenorrhea if you:
- are under the age of 20
- are a smoker
- bleed heavily during your periods
- have a family history of painful periods
- have an underlying condition, such as:
- fibroids in the uterus
- pelvic inflammatory disease
Pain from dysmenorrhea is usually felt in the lower abdomen, lower back, hips, and legs. It usually lasts for 1 to 3 days. The pain can either be dull and achy or it may feel like shooting pains.
Back pain is common during pregnancy. It happens as your center of gravity shifts, you gain weight, and your hormones relax your ligaments in preparation for birth.
For most women, back pain happens between the fifth and seventh months of pregnancy, but it can start much earlier. You’re more likely to have back pain during pregnancy if you already have lower back issues.
The most common place to have pain is right below your waist and across your tailbone. You may also have pain in the center of your back, around your waistline. This pain may radiate into your legs.
There are also causes of lower back pain that can affect anyone of any sex. Some of the most common causes include the conditions outlined below:
A muscle or ligament strain is one of the most common causes of lower back pain. It can be caused by:
- repeated heavy lifting
- bending or twisting awkwardly
- a sudden awkward movement
- overstretching the muscle or ligament
If you continue doing the type of movement that strained the muscle, it can eventually cause back spasms.
Sciatica is a symptom caused by compression or injury of the sciatic nerve, the longest nerve in your body. This is the nerve that travels from your lower spine through your buttocks and down the back of your legs.
Sciatica causes a burning pain or a pain that feels like a shock in your low back. It usually extends down one leg. In severe cases, you may also have leg numbness and weakness.
A herniated disc is when one of the discs that cushions your vertebrae gets compressed and bulges outward. This can eventually cause the disc to rupture. Pain is caused by the bulging disc pressing on a nerve.
A herniated disc can also be caused by an injury. It becomes more likely as you get older. The lower back is the most common place for a herniated disc, but it can also happen in your neck.
As you age, the discs in your spine can start wearing down. Degeneration can also be caused by injuries or repetitive motion. Most people have some disc degeneration after age 40. It doesn’t always cause pain, but it can cause severe pain in some people.
Degeneration is most common in your neck and lower back. The pain may extend to your buttocks and thighs, and it may come and go.
If your back pain is caused by conditions related to your menstrual period or a muscle strain, you may want to try the following home remedies to ease your lower back pain:
- A heating pad. A heating pad applied to your back can boost circulation, which, in turn, allows nutrients and oxygen to get to the muscles in your back.
- A warm bath. A warm bath can improve circulation and reduce muscle pain and stiffness.
- OTC painkillers. Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin, can help ease back pain and other types of pain associated with your period.
- Exercise. Staying active can improve your circulation and ease tense muscles.
- Gentle stretching. Regular stretching may help reduce lower back pain or prevent it from coming back.
- An ice pack. If your back pain is due to a muscle strain or an injury, an ice pack may help reduce inflammation, pain, and bruising. Ice packs work best within the first 48 hours of a muscle strain or injury.
- A pillow. Placing a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your side, or under your knees if you sleep on your back, may help ease back pain and discomfort.
- Good lumbar support. Using a chair with good lumbar support may help ease your back pain when sitting.
In some cases, it’s important to follow up with a doctor to determine the cause of your back pain. See your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of the following:
- you’re unable to stand or walk
- your back pain is accompanied with a fever, or you’re unable to control your bowel or bladder
- you have pain, numbness, or tingling in your legs
- the pain extends down your legs
- you have severe abdominal pain
- your back pain is severe and interferes with your daily life
- you have symptoms of endometriosis
- you have pain during pregnancy with vaginal bleeding, a fever, or pain while urinating
- you have back pain after a fall or accident
- there’s no improvement in your pain after a week of home care
Depending on the cause of your lower back pain, your doctor may be able to provide treatment beyond home remedies or self-care measures.
Treatment options prescribed by your doctor may include:
- muscle relaxants
- cortisone injections
- hormonal birth control for endometriosis, dysmenorrhea, PMS, and PMDD
- antidepressants, which may relieve PMS and PMDD symptoms, and also help with certain types of back pain
- surgery for severe endometriosis, which involves removing endometrial tissue from areas where it has grown outside of the uterus
- surgery to repair discs
Lower back pain in women can be caused by many different conditions and underlying factors. If it’s around the time of the month you get your period, your back pain may be linked to factors associated with your menstrual cycle.
Your pain also may be caused by conditions that can affect anyone regardless of age or sex, such as muscle strains, sciatica, or a herniated disc.
The treatment for lower back pain depends on the underlying cause. In many cases, you can try home remedies first. But, if your back pain doesn’t improve or gets worse, follow up with your doctor for diagnosis and treatment.