Sharp Stabbing Pain in Lower Left Side of Back
Lower back pain that is localized to one side of the body may feel like a constant ache or pain that flares up occasionally and then subsides. Pain in the lower left side of the back can be sharp, stabbing, and severe or a dull, consistent ache. In some cases, lower left side back pain stops or worsens with movement and may even change when pressure is placed on the back.
Common Causes of Sharp, Stabbing Lower Left Side Pain in the Back
The most common causes of stabbing, sharp pain in the lower left side of the back include:
- An injury to structures along the spinal column such as facet joints or spinal discs
- Damage of soft tissue structures that support the spine such as the ligaments or muscles
- Conditions that affect internal organs such as the intestines, kidneys, or reproductive organs
Soft Tissue Damage
Muscles or tendons in the lower back that are overused, weak, or overstretched can become strained. Similarly, a torn or overstretched ligament can lead to a painful sprain. Both of these types of injuries are associated with inflammation that is linked to sharp, stabbing muscle spasms. Incidents such as an abrupt movement (e.g., twisting, bending), a hard fall, or a minor car accident can damage soft tissue in the lower back. Poor posture or improper lifting techniques may also lead to a back injury. Signs that lower left side back pain may be the result of soft tissue damage include a sore or stiff back, stabbing pain in the back during movement, or muscle spasms.
Damage of the Spinal Column
Conditions such as facet joint syndrome, a herniated lumber disc, or sacroiliac joint dysfunction, among others, may also cause one-sided (e.g., left side) lower back pain.
Facet Joint Syndrome
Facet joints are small bony structures that stabilize vertebrae (spinal bones). They have the appearance of bony knobs and they are located between the vertebrae. These small joints connect vertebrae together in a chain-like manner to promote spinal movement in different directions. Damage to or the degeneration of facet joints can lead to a condition called facet joint syndrome. Osteoarthritis, a serious injury, or wear and tear of the joints due to aging are additional issues that can cause inflammation of the facet joints. Pain generally develops in the region where the affected joint is located. One of the most commonly reported symptoms by individuals who are suffering from facet joint syndrome is pain in the lower back that may be one-sided (e.g., left side), and radiates to the buttocks, thighs, or legs. Additional symptoms include:
- Shoulder pain
- Muscle weakness
- Stiffness in the back
- A loss of flexibility in the spine
- Tenderness or pain in the inflamed area
Sometimes, injuries an individual may not consider as significant, such as poor posture while lifting heavy objects or twisting the body the wrong way, may trigger the onset of facet join pain.
Lumbar discs are positioned between each vertebra in the lower region of the spine, where they function as protective shock absorbers. A traumatic spinal injury, improper lifting techniques, a sedentary lifestyle, and performing repetitive movements may cause a disc to protrude or bulge, causing a herniated disc. This condition can cause pain to develop on one side of the lower back (e.g., left side), depending on the position of the disc. In some cases, a disc may break or rupture. When this happens, an individual typically experiences severe pain that may necessitate surgery to prevent permanent nerve damage.
Sacroiliac Joint Dysfunction
Sacroiliac joint dysfunction develops when the joints that connect sacrum (lower) region of the spine to the the rest of the pelvis, begin to move abnormally. For some individuals, the joints may become stiff and cause poor coordination as well as lower back pain. Others may experience pain due to joints that have become loose, the latter of which is especially common in pregnant women due to hormonal changes. A hard fall on the left side, for example, can also alter the position of the joint and cause lower left side back pain. The pain may be accompanied by inflammation in the area of the joint and this may lead to a constant ache in the left lower side of the back as well as pain in the buttocks and the back of the left upper thigh.
People who experience these types of spinal issues often respond well to physical therapy. Many even notice significant improvement after a few weeks of therapeutic treatment. However, sharp, stabbing lower left side pain in the back may also be an indication of an internal organ problem. Additional symptoms typically accompany this form of lower back pain.
Internal Organ Issues
Sharp, stabbing pain in the lower left side of the back may be an indication of an internal organ problem such as a kidney infection, kidney stone, ulcerative colitis, pancreatitis, or uterine disorders (e.g., fibroids, endometriosis).
Urinary or Kidney Infections
A urinary infection or an infection of the left kidney may cause constant, stabbing pain that can radiate through the lower left side of the back. Symptoms such as burning, itching, or pain while urinating, chills, or a fever, indicate the presence of a possible infection. These types of symptoms warrant an examination by a doctor.
Kidney stones, which develop due to mineral buildup in the urinary tract, are associated with sharp, stabbing pain on the lower left side of the back and intense pain below the ribs, in the lower abdomen, above the buttocks, and in the groin. Blood may also appear in the urine. The sharp, stabbing pain may subside as smaller stones pass through the urinary tract, but larger stones may require specific treatment (e.g., medication, shock wave therapy) that helps facilitate their passage by breaking them up.
Pancreatitis is characterized by abnormal pancreatic function due to inflammation. Chronic pancreatitis can also lead to the development of fluid-filled sacs on the surface of the pancreas. The most common symptoms that are associated with this condition include severe pain in the middle of the abdomen or on the left side of the stomach that can extend to the lower back. It is often described as sharp, stabbing, shooting, or burning pain that fluctuates and lasts for several hours or a few days. Nausea and vomiting may occur as well. If the condition progresses, the painful episodes may increase in frequency and severity.
Endometriosis is a uterine condition that is characterized by painful lesions that grow outside of the uterus. The lesions may also be present on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, or the intestines. Accordingly, abnormal growth of the left side (e.g., left ovary, left fallopian tube) can lead to lower left side pain that extends to the back. Severe cramping during the menstrual cycle and painful intercourse are also associated with this condition.
Another common issue that is linked to lower left side back pain is uterine fibroids, which are noncancerous growths that develop in the uterus or the ovaries. Fibroids may also cause intense cramping, heavy menstrual bleeding, pelvic pain, and prolonged menstruation.
Treatment for Sharp, Stabbing Lower Left Side Back Pain
Treatment for sharp, stabbing pain in the lower left side of the back varies widely depending on the underlying cause. Getting an accurate diagnosis by a healthcare professional (e.g., physical therapist, doctor) is crucial in order to receive proper treatment. If the lower left side back pain originates due to a problem with internal organs, identifying the cause and treating it can help alleviate the discomfort. The following examples describe potential treatments for internal organ issues:
- Kidney stones – Medication may be prescribed or shockwave therapy may be recommended to help break up the kidney stones.
- Endometriosis – Medication may also be prescribed to target the pain and surgery may be performed to remove excess tissue.
- Pancreatitis – If a bile duct obstruction is present, it may need to be surgically removed or fluid can be drained from the pancreas.
If pain on the lower left side of the back develops due to a musculoskeletal or spinal issue, the following strategies may be useful:
If a minor accident (e.g., hard fall) or swift movement such as improperly lifting an object caused a back injury, resting the back by limiting activities that worsen the pain can help promote recovery.
Applying a cold compress or ice pack to the affected area several times a day for about 20 minutes each time can help decrease pain and inflammation. An ice pack should be wrapped in a cloth before it is applied to the skin to protect it from extremely cold temperatures. Cold applications target swelling, discomfort, and muscle spasms by slowing down blood flow.
After using a cold compress or ice pack to lessen the pain, a heating pad can be applied to the area for another 20 minutes to help soothe and relax tense muscles or ligaments. The application of heat also reduces pain, boosts circulation, and enhances flexibility. Heightened circulation also increases nutrient and oxygen transfer to damaged tissue. In addition, improved blood flow promotes the removal of chemical irritants that build up at the site of inflammation.
Pain Relieving Medicine
Over-the-counter, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen, target inflammation and pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another common pain reliever that can be used for lower left side back pain when NSAIDs are ineffective or cannot be taken. Stronger prescription medications and muscle relaxants may also be recommended for moderate to severe pain that has become chronic.
If sharp, stabbing lower left side pain in the back does not resolve on its own or pain medication is ineffective, physical therapy may be recommended. Post-operative physical therapy is also a common form of pain management for individuals whose back pain required surgical treatment. The therapeutic regimen is typically geared toward reducing pain and stiffness as well as promoting a quicker recovery through guided activity. It also involves strengthening muscles, tendons, and ligaments, improving range of motion, correcting postural issues, and encouraging safe bodily movement. In addition, physical therapists will often design a program that can be performed at home for prolonged improvement. They also monitor each individual’s progress and make adjustments accordingly.
Although lower left side back pain varies in terms of severity, following the strategies described (e.g., rest, NSAIDs, physical therapy) should lessen or alleviate the pain. If the back pain does not start to decrease after 1 to 2 weeks or it worsens, it may be useful to speak with a doctor. Additional symptoms that signal a potentially serious condition include:
- Extreme fatigue
- Painful urination
- Muscle weakness
- Blood in the urine
- Shortness of breath
- Numbness in the legs
- Difficulty moving the legs
- A loss of bowel or bladder control
- Weakness or tingling in the lower body
In such cases, a doctor may perform a physical examination along with tests such as X-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, or MRIs to make a proper diagnosis. Individuals who are receiving physical therapy should promptly discuss these types of symptoms with a therapist if they arise.
Sharp, stabbing pain in the lower left side of the back may develop due to various health issues that include underlying problems with internal organs, damage to structures along the spinal column, and musculoskeletal conditions or injuries. The symptoms that accompany these types of health problems and the location of the back pain can help a healthcare professional such as a physical therapist diagnose the cause.
There are a number of strategies that can help alleviate the pain, and discomfort that is linked to a minor issue often resolves on its own in a short period of time. Pain that is severe or is accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, or extreme muscle weakness necessitate a medical examination.
Most people who can attribute their lower left side back pain to a spinal or musculoskeletal issue may benefit from physical therapy. A physical therapist can perform a thorough evaluation to identify the cause of back problems and develop an individualized treatment plan. If you are experiencing sharp, stabbing pain in the lower left side of your back and you would like to speak with a physical therapist about pain management, please contact FYZICAL today. Our team of experts are ready to help you address your back pain.
FYZICAL offers a wide variety of physical therapy services by qualified providers across the U.S. To find a FYZICAL Therapy & Balance Center near you, visit our website at FYZICAL.com. Our highly skilled therapy providers are 100% focused on your optimal health so you can Love Your Life®!
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