But how can you tell? It can be tricky. This is a concise, readable guide to symptoms that need better-safe-than-sorry investigation with your doctor. (It’s basically just a plain English version of clinical guidelines for doctors.9) In other words, this article explains the difference between “dangerous” and “just painful” as clearly as possible. Tables, checklists, and examples ahead.
Grade III (severe): A complete tear in your muscle that causes severe pain and swelling and you can't bear weight on that leg, making it difficult to walk. You've also lost more than 50 percent of your muscle function. These injuries are less common and may need surgery to repair the torn muscle. They can take several months or more to completely heal.
Although some of us are familiar with a pinched nerve, which is associated with sciatic-like pain in the leg, irritation or inflammation of nerves in the low back region can also cause a sensation in the upper leg or hip region. It is important to realize there are many things that can go wrong in the spine. Remember, sciatica is not a diagnosis but, instead, a symptom of an underlying problem. It is possible to feel back-related pain in the hip region and upper leg as well. It depends on the nerves involved and ultimately the actual diagnosis. Back pain or hip pain is not a diagnosis but simply an explanation of the area of pain. Symptoms are correlated with physical examination and confirmed through x-rays and similar tests.
Kneel with a wall or pillar behind you, knees hips-width apart and toes touching the wall. Arch your back to lean back while keeping your hips stacked over your knees. Take your arms overhead and touch your palms into the wall behind you. This bend does not need to be extremely deep to feel a great stretch in the hips and strength in the lower back.
Sit on floor with knees bent and shins stacked with right leg on top. Use your hand to position right ankle on left knee. Ideally, the right knee will rest on the left thigh, but if your hips are tight, your right knee may point up toward the ceiling (overtime, as your hips become more open, your knee will lower). Keeping your hips squared to the front of the room, hinge at the hips and slowly walk hands slightly forward. If this is enough of a stretch, hold here, or fold your torso over your thighs to go deeper. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
But there are some pretty serious causes for back and hip pain as well. Lower back pain, in particular, can be a sign of various serious conditions such as advanced kidney infections or a condition called interstitial cystitis, which can cause inflammation of the tissues of the bladder. Sciatica causes lower back pain, pain in the back of the knee, pain in right buttock cheek, unilateral (one-sided) pain, thigh pain, pain behind the knee and calf, and muscle weakness in legs as well.
During pregnancy a woman’s abdominals get stretched out. There is no way to avoid this with a growing baby. Muscles work most effectively when they are at an optimal length. Not too short and not too long. The lengthening that happens during pregnancy puts the abdominal muscles at a decreased advantage for working. This decreases the amount of support they provide for spinal stability.  
Loop a resistance band either above your knees (least resistance), below your knees (medium resistance), or around your ankles (greatest resistance). Bend knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart. Step to the side until the band provides resistance, then slide your other foot over to re-create your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10 to 15 feet in one direction (or as far as you can), and then cover the same distance in the other direction.
Why is back pain still a huge problem? Maybe this: “It is extremely difficult to alter the potentially disabling belief among the lay public that low back pain has a structural mechanical cause. An important reason for this is that this belief continues to be regularly reinforced by the conditions of care of a range of ‘hands-on’ providers, for whom idiosyncratic variations of that view are fundamental to their professional existence.”
Spartacus is worthwhile, but the sex and violence is over-the-top: there’s no sugar-coating it. Definitely not a family drama. But the dramatic quality is excellent. After a couple of campy, awkward episodes at the start, the first season quickly gets quite good: distinctive film craft, interesting writing, and solid acting from nearly the whole cast. Andy Whitfield’s Spartacus is idealistic, earnest, and easy to like. I found it downright upsetting when I learned that he had passed away — as did many, many other fans I’m sure. See my personal blog for a little bit more of a review of Spartacus. BACK TO TEXT
© 2018 Condé Nast. All rights reserved. Use of and/or registration on any portion of this site constitutes acceptance of our User Agreement (updated 5/25/18) and  Privacy Policy and Cookie Statement  (updated 5/25/18). SELF may earn a portion of sales from products that are purchased through our site as part of our Affiliate Partnerships with retailers. Your California Privacy Rights.  The material on this site may not be reproduced, distributed, transmitted, cached or otherwise used, except with the prior written permission of Condé Nast. Ad Choices 
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
Along with these exercises, it's also important to do some supplementary exercises to work your hip's supporting muscles. You've probably heard of your shoulder's rotator cuff. Well, your hip also has a cuff, or a group of muscles that help stabilize and support movement. For these exercises, you'll need a mini-band, a longer thera-band or tubing (both are sold at many sporting goods stores, or can be purchased online), and a cable-column unit.
When was the last time you got on your gym's abductor or adductor machine and got in a good workout? It's probably been a while. Both are machines that don't get a lot of use, and they are often the target of coaches' ridicule on those "useless gym moves we should all skip" lists. Perhaps rightly so, especially if you're hopping on those machines hoping for a slimming effect.

Unilateral exercises like step-ups and single-leg toe touches are particularly effective at strengthening the glutes, while walking lunges, lateral lunges, air squats, and jump squats will zero in on all the muscles surrounding the hips. Whether you’re at the gym or heading out for (or back from!) a run, these five moves will strengthen and open your hips, keep them loose long-term, and not only make you a better runner, but make running feel better to you.
So if you're doing abs exercises and you feel like your hip flexors are putting in more work, refocus and dial in on the muscles you're trying to target. It might sound trite to just "think" about a muscle working as you're doing an exercise (for example, thinking about your abs contracting as you do a situp), but it might actually prevent you from mindlessly grinding out reps with poor form.

How to: Start with your left foot back behind your body, with feet flat on the ground and legs straight. With the back foot, take one step farther away from your body—engage the glutes as you do. Then reach overhead with the opposite arm and stretch through the side of your body. Return to starting position. That's one rep. Repeat eight times on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.
How to: Start feet hip-width apart, with your arms straight out in front of you. Step one foot back on a diagonal, feet flat. Once your foot reaches the floor, lower into a shallow lunge. Keep your knee bent and butt back, twist your pelvis, and rotate your arms back behind your body until they frame the knee. Return to starting position. That's one rep. Do eight reps on each side. Do three to four sets before moving on to the next move, resting for 30 seconds in between each set.

Most back pain is harmless – caused by sleeping in an awkward position, stretched muscles, overexertion, sitting down too long or falling on the ischial tuberosity (the bones of the butt that you sit on), or minor hip injuries caused by twisting a certain way during sports like volleyball. Many injuries arise simply from improper form during exercise, sports injuries, or strains.
• Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which the bones loose so much mass that they become brittle and prone to break with slight trauma. The condition, which can occur with aging, inactivity, a low-calcium diet or use of corticosteroid medications, commonly affects the spine. When this occurs in the spine, the inner spongy bone and more solid outer portion of the vertebrae become porous. The weakened vertebrae can break – an injury called a compression fracture – and lose about one-half of their height. In most cases, compression fractures, are painful. In some cases, the resulting back pain is severe. Usually, the pain resolves within a few weeks, but for some people, it is long-lasting.
Sherwin is a Medical Research Scientist and Author of the Low Back Pain Program and eBook. With over 20 years of Research experience from The Toronto General Hospital and The Hospital for Sick Children, he provides sensible, effective, advice and solutions for lower back pain. His eBook has helped thousands of sufferers overcome chronic back pain through safe, targeted exercise and stretching techniques.
In this study, one patient with sciatica was sent for ten MRIs, which produced 49 distinct “findings,” 16 of them unique, none of which occurred in all ten reports. On average, each radiologist made about a dozen errors, seeing one or two things that weren’t there and missing about ten things that were. Yikes. Read a more detailed and informal description of this study.
Kidneys — The kidneys are a matched pair. One painful kidney can cause back pain on one side or the other. Kidney pain can feel like back pain, and may occur on only one side. It is usually quite lateral, and just barely low enough to qualify as “low” back pain. However, when kidney stones descend through the ureters, they can cause (terrible) pain in the low back. Kidney stone pain is often so severe and develops so rapidly that it isn’t mistaken for a back pain problem.

A herniated disc in the back cancause sciatic like symptoms of pain that radiates from the lower back and down into the legs and calves. It can also cause pain in the butt and tail of the spine and can cause pain running down the legs and numbness in one leg. Typical symptoms include feelings of muscle weakness in the legs, sciatic nerve pain, pain in the back leg muscles, tingling in the nerves of the leg, and pain behind the knees. Treatments include ice and heat therapy, anti-inflammatory drugs, pain medications, exercise, physical therapy, steroids to decrease inflammation, and sometimes surgery.


The only activity performed on a regular basis that fully extends the hip is walking and running. Hence as activity levels decrease so does the ability to extend the hip. This results in compensatory pelvic tilting and lumbar extension, with a reduction in the ability to accommodate uneven ground, negotiate obstacles, or attempt to change walking speed quickly. The compensatory pelvic tilt that accompanies tight hip flexors also predisposes the individual to  postural problems and back pain. Hip stretches done on a regular basis can help you maintain extension range of motion and thereby improve function.
“Red flags” are signs or symptoms that something medically ominous may be going on. Red flags are not reliable, and their presence is not a diagnosis. When you have some red flags, it only indicates a need to look more closely. Sometimes red flags are missing there really is something serious going on… and sometimes they are a false alarm.18 Check off all that apply … hopefully none or few or only the least alarming of them!
You’ve heard the saying: it’s all in the hips, but for many of us, our hips – or more precisely, our hip flexors – are tight, stiff and inflexible. If you’re an office worker you can probably thank sitting down at your desk 8 or more hours a day for your tight hip flexors. Habitual sitting causes your hip flexors to tighten and shorten – adjustable standing desks, anyone?
Kidney pain, kidney stones, kidney failure, and advanced kidney infections can cause radiating lower back pain, especially pain that affects the lowest ribs in the back and higher buttock area. Kidney issues can also cause pain in the groin area and difficulty urinating. Groin pain in women, especially pregnant women, is a special concern and the patient should be taken to the ER immediately. If you think a kidney issue is causing your back pain, get to an ER—because once a kidney issue is advanced enough to cause back pain, it is usually quite serious.
The hip joint is designed to withstand a fair amount of wear and tear, but it’s not indestructible. For example, when you walk, a cushion of cartilage helps prevent friction as the hip bone moves in its socket. With age and use, this cartilage can wear down or become damaged, or the hip bone itself can be fractured during a fall. In fact, more than 300,000 adults over 65 are hospitalized for hip fractures each year, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Example: a friend of mine went to the hospital after a motorcycle accident. He’d flown over a car and landed hard on his head. Bizarrely, he was sent home with very little care, and no imaging of his back, even though he was complaining of severe lower back pain. A doctor reassured him that it was just muscle spasms. (This all happened at a hospital that was notorious for being over-crowded and poorly run.) The next day, still in agony, he went to see a doctor at a walk-in clinic, who immediately took him for an x-ray… which identified a serious lumbar fracture and imminent danger of paralysis. He had been lucky to get through the night without disaster! He was placed on a spine board immediately and sent for surgery. The moral of the story? Sometimes, when you’ve had a major trauma and your back really hurts, it’s because your back is broken. BACK TO TEXT
Loop a resistance band either above your knees (least resistance), below your knees (medium resistance), or around your ankles (greatest resistance). Bend knees slightly with your feet hip-width apart. Step to the side until the band provides resistance, then slide your other foot over to re-create your original stance. Repeat this sidestepping movement for 10 to 15 feet in one direction (or as far as you can), and then cover the same distance in the other direction.
You can use over-the-counter remedies such as Motrin or Advil (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) to help with pain and swelling. Tylenol (acetaminophen) works for pain relief, but it doesn't treat inflammation and swelling. If you have heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or if you've had ulcers or internal bleeding, check with your doctor before taking any of these medications.
×