• Dr. Eric Carlsen

What Are Some Different Types of Back Pain?


dot outline of person with red spot indicating back pain

The first thing you should probably know about back pain is that it can last anywhere from a few days to years, and that timeline makes a big difference in how your pain is diagnosed and treated.

  • Acute back pain is defined as severe but lasting a short time, usually 7 to 10 days.

  • Subacute pain can last from two to six weeks.

  • Chronic back pain usually occurs every day and sticks around for longer than six to eight weeks. It can be severe and last months or even years but may be characterized as mild, deep, achy, burning, or electric-like.

Beyond the when there’s also the where. Mechanical pain means that the source of your pain may lie in the facet joints, discs, soft tissues, or vertebrae.


Back pain that travels into another part of the body, such as the leg, maybe consider radicular pain (because it radiates; get it?), particularly when it radiates below the knee. This scenario is commonly called a lumbar radiculopathy (e.g., sciatica).


Fortunately, not all occurrences of back pain include leg pain.


Perhaps you’ve heard of inflammatory pain. While it sounds like it could be a separate type of pain from mechanical and radicular pain, it’s actually an element of both. Dr. Knight explains, “Symptoms of pain, whether mechanical or radicular, share a component of inflammation.”


Simply put, inflammation is when your body knows something isn’t right and “flares up” as a result.

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