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Ovarian cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can form in or around your ovaries. They’re actually very common and most often form naturally around the time of ovulation. Most simple ovarian cysts go away without treatment.

While many ovarian cysts don’t cause symptoms, women with larger cysts may experience symptoms like abdominal pain. In some cases, pain can also occur in the lower back.

Keep reading to learn more about ovarian cysts and lower back pain, what causes cysts to form, and how they can be treated.

Pain from an ovarian cyst is most often felt in the lower abdomen. While it can vary by individual, this pain typically:

  • feels dull
  • is mild in intensity
  • may come and go

Some women may experience lower back pain from an ovarian cyst. In a 2019 analysis of MRI images from people with lower back pain, 40 out of 90 women (44.5 percent) were found to have an ovarian cyst or mass.

Lower back pain from an ovarian cyst often feels dull and achy. Sometimes, a cyst can burst (rupture). When this happens, you may feel a sharper, more severe pain.

If you have unexplained lower back pain, other symptoms that may indicate that it could be caused by an ovarian cyst include:

There are actually several different types of ovarian cysts, including:

  • Functional cysts. The most common type of ovarian cyst, including follicular and corpus luteum cysts, that happen when the follicle or corpus luteum don’t follow their usual pattern during your menstrual cycle. They often disappear on their own.
  • Dermoid cysts (teratomas). Dermoid cysts are actually slow-growing tumors that are most often benign (non-cancerous). They contain tissues from other parts of the body, such as skin and hair, and are often present from birth.
  • Cystadenomas. Cystadenomas are also benign tumors that contain a watery or mucus-like fluid. They may look similar to functional cysts, but cystadenomas continue to grow over time and can become very large.
  • Endometriomas (chocolate cysts). Endometriomas are blood-filled cysts that form due to endometriosis, a condition where the uterine lining grows outside of the uterus. When the ovaries are impacted by endometriosis, endometriomas can form in them.

Ovarian cysts are more likely to cause lower back pain when they grow to a larger size. When this happens, they can begin to press on the organs and tissues of your abdomen, leading to pain or discomfort in your back.

Large cysts are rare. Most ovarian cysts will go away after a few menstrual cycles and are only about 1 to 3 centimeters in diameter — about the size of 1 inch or smaller. In very rare cases, a cyst may grow to be 15 to 30 centimeters in diameter (about 6 to 12 inches).

If you have lower back pain that’s not severe, you can do the following things at home to help ease it:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medications. OTC pain medications can help alleviate pain, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).
  • Heat. Applying a heating pad to the affected area may aid in reducing pain and inflammation.
  • Stretching. Gentle stretching may also help with back pain. Ask your doctor about what types of stretches may be appropriate. Try to avoid motions or activities that make your back pain worse.

If your lower back pain is due to an ovarian cyst, the above methods can help reduce pain, but they won’t cause the cyst to go away. If you suspect that you have an ovarian cyst, make an appointment with your doctor.

If the tips above aren’t helping, and you’re experiencing lower back pain along with other symptoms of ovarian cysts, you’ll want to see your doctor. A pelvic exam and ultrasound can be used to confirm the presence of ovarian cysts.

There are some ovarian cyst symptoms for which it’s important to seek prompt medical attention, including:

The symptoms above could indicate a complication, such as a ruptured cyst or a twisted ovary (ovarian torsion).

It’s also a good rule of thumb to see your doctor for any lower back pain that:

  • significantly impacts your ability to perform daily activities
  • is severe or persistent
  • radiates to other areas of your body
  • affects your ability to urinate or have a bowel movement
  • occurs along with weakness or numbness and tingling
  • cannot be explained by other known health conditions
  • happens after an injury

In addition to ovarian cysts, there are also other conditions that can cause lower back pain, including:

Many cysts will go away on their own without treatment.

Because of this, your doctor may recommend a period of watchful waiting. This involves periodically monitoring a cyst by ultrasound to check for changes in size or appearance.

When a cyst causes symptoms, including lower back pain, the following treatments may be recommended:

  • Pain medications. These can include OTC medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve). If pain is more severe, a stronger medication may be prescribed.
  • Birth control pills. These can help to prevent new cysts from forming, but won’t shrink existing cysts.
  • Surgery. In some cases, a cyst may need to be removed using surgery. This is typically done using laparoscopy (minimally-invasive surgery) or laparotomy (open surgery).

Surgical removal may be recommended if a cyst:

  • is already large or is continuing to get larger
  • doesn’t go away after several menstrual cycles
  • causes significant pain or other symptoms
  • appears potentially malignant (cancerous) by ultrasound

Although rare, there are a couple potentially serious complications that can occur due to ovarian cysts. Let’s explore these in more detail.

Ruptured cyst

Sometimes, an ovarian cyst can burst. When this happens, you may experience sudden, severe pain in your lower abdomen or back. While painful, a ruptured cyst doesn’t typically require treatment.

However, a large cyst that’s ruptured may lead to heavy bleeding. When this happens, you may feel faint, dizzy, or have rapid breathing. A ruptured cyst that’s causing heavy bleeding can be addressed through surgery.

Ovarian torsion

When an ovarian cyst gets very large, its weight can cause the ovary to become twisted around. This is called ovarian torsion and can lead to symptoms like:

  • sudden severe pain, often on one side of the abdomen
  • nausea and vomiting
  • rapid pulse

A twisted ovary can disrupt blood flow to the affected ovary. Because of this, prompt surgery is needed to prevent tissue death.

Ovarian cysts often don’t cause symptoms, going away on their own without treatment. When symptoms are present, they can include pain in the lower abdomen or back.

Pain from an ovarian cyst often occurs when a cyst becomes large and begins to press on the organs and tissues that surround it. When a cyst causes lower back pain, it often feels dull and achy.

Lower back pain from an ovarian cyst can be treated at home using methods like OTC pain medications, a heating pad, and gentle stretching. While these things can ease pain, they won’t help the cyst to go away.

Watchful waiting is typically advised for smaller cysts. However, surgical removal is often necessary for a cyst that’s large or is causing significant symptoms. If you have lower back pain and other ovarian cyst symptoms, see your doctor.