Many pathologic processes affecting a number of different systems within the body can cause side and back pain. When trying to distinguish the cause of this sort of discomfort, it helps to understand what other symptoms are present and how the pain developed. This can aid in localizing the problem to the muscles, the kidneys, the gastrointestinal tract, the reproductive organs, or the skin. Although side and back pain can be relieved with a number of medications, it helps to understand why the pain is present in order to treat the underlying condition and alleviate the problem in the long term.
One of the most common causes of side and back pain is problems with the muscles in that region. Damage to these muscles can lead to strain, causing soreness and pain with activity. This problem is often triggered by overusing the muscles, for example by participating in a new sport, or enduring a long bout of exercise. Often this pain can be relieved by resting the muscles, applying ice packs, or taking over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen.
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Another cause of side and back pain is malfunction of the kidneys. Pyelonephritis, which is an infection of the kidneys, can cause lower back pain that might move or radiate to the side of the body. Kidney stones can cause excruciating pain as they pass from the kidneys and through the lower urinary tract. Often this pain can shoot from the back and radiate to the groin area. Rarer conditions such as tumors of the kidneys could also cause discomfort of the side and back.
Abnormalities in parts of the gastrointestinal tract can also cause side and back pain. Pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that is important in digestion and regulating blood sugar levels, causes a pain that starts in the front of the body and shoots to the back. Some patients with this condition also have pain in their sides. Other gastrointestinal abnormalities, such as diverticulitis, appendicitis, and gastroenteritis, could also cause pain in these areas of the body.
Women with side and back pain might be having this discomfort as a result of abnormalities in their reproductive organs. Having a cyst in one of the ovaries can cause pain affecting one side of the body. Endometriosis, which is a condition caused by abnormal proliferation in other areas of the tissue that normally lines the uterus, can also cause pain in the side and back.
Problems affecting the skin could also cause side and back pain. A rash, for example, might cause itchiness, burning, tingling, and irritation in this region. Shingles, a condition that typically affects older people who have been infected with chickenpox at a young age, can cause an excruciatingly painful rash that wraps around the chest region. Other skin conditions, such as contact dermatitis, could also cause pain in the side and back.