6 Reasons you May Have Back Pain on Only One Side

84% of adults will experience back pain, specifically lower back pain, over the course of their lifetime. The exact location and type of pain you’re in gives a clearer indication of what may be the source of your discomfort.

Read on to discover the symptoms and potential causes for what your one-sided back pain may mean.

1. Muscle Strain/Sprain

A muscle sprain or strain is the most common culprit of low back pain. A sprain is a tear or stretching in a ligament whereas a strain is a tear or stretching in a tendon or muscle. This can happen when you lift something heavy, overstretch your back muscles, or twist/lift something improperly. These injuries can cause limited range of motion, tenderness or swelling, back spasms, and pain that worsens after sitting or getting out of bed.


2. Sciatica

Sciatica is a pain that’s caused by the compression of the sciatic nerve which runs through your buttocks and down the back of your leg. Sciatica is typically caused by a bone spur, herniated disc, or spinal stenosis that’s compressing part of the sciatic nerve.


This condition only affects one side of the body and causes burning or shooting low back pain that radiates down the leg. The pain may worsen when you sneeze, cough, or sit for a long time. In serious cases, sciatica can cause numbness in your leg.

3. Arthritis

Osteoarthritis occurs when cartilage between your vertebrae breaks down. The lower back is a common site due to the stress of walking. Previous back injuries make osteoarthritis more common.

Alternatively, if someone has right hip pain from arthritis, they may walk in a way meant to prevent falling and minimize hip irritation. This uneven movement can in turn result in left side back pain.

This compensation is typically not something your body does consciously. It’s just how the body protects itself from worsening pain which causes other joints and muscles to grow over-fatigued and be overused.


4. Kidney Stones/Infection

Kidney stones result from various causes such as a buildup of waste or not enough fluid in your kidneys. Small kidney stones can pass on their own with no symptoms, whereas larger stones may require serious medical treatment.

A kidney infection typically begins as a UTI and, if not treated, can permanently damage your kidneys.

Sharp, lower back pain on one side of your back is one of the most common symptoms found in kidney stones or infection alongside kidney pain, vomiting, blood in urine, pain while urinating, fever, and nausea.


5. Endometrios/Fibroids

Though you may not think of them at first, pain on the right side or left side of your back may come from the organs in your mid-back, abdominal, or pelvic area. That pain may signify infection, inflammation, or irritation.

In women, pelvic pain from endometriosis or fibroids can radiate into the lower right back. This pain often comes with other issues, too, including abnormal menstruation, frequent urination, and pain during intercourse.


6. Ulcerative Colitis

There are many one-sided issues you could have from pelvic or abdominal structures, but this doesn’t elicit the typical back pain people think of. Radiating, deep pain and aches can signify an issue related to the internal organs.

Chronic inflammation of the large intestine, known as ulcerative colitis, can also cause back pain—along with digestive issues, abdominal cramping, weight loss, and fatigue as well.


Emergency Symptoms

Take one-sided lower back pain seriously. If your pain is severe or you believe it may be an emergency such as a pressing injury or health problem, go to the ER.

If your lower back pain is occurring in conjunction with other symptoms such as swelling, spinal tenderness, swelling, or bladder/bowel problems.

Cauda Equina Syndrome

One such issue is a serious nerve condition called “cauda equina syndrome”. This involves nerve compression at the end of the spinal cord. Typically, symptoms include significant leg pain, significant leg pain, numbness around the groin, loss of bowel/bladder control, and paralysis.

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

Emergency symptoms that cause back pain don’t always have to do specifically with the back. An abdominal aortic aneurysm causes the abdominal aorta to balloon and, in some cases, rupture. If the aneurysm ruptures, there is often associated sudden and severe abdominal or chest pain radiating to one side of the back.

When to See a Physiotherapist or Healthcare Provider

If you’re experiencing lower back pain in the left or right side of your back that started for no reason, it typically resolves on its own with minimal treatment. If you’ve been dealing with intense pain for 10 days and OTC medications aren’t cutting it, it’s time to call you healthcare practitioner. They may recommend:

  • Stronger medication: Prescription-strength anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxants may alleviate your pain.
  • Active rehabilitation: Your local physiotherapist, chiropractor, or osteopath can perform hands on treatment for back pain relief.


Remember: It’s better to be overly cautious when dealing with back pain on your right side or left side, especially if the pain interrupts your daily life or comes on suddenly and doesn’t go away with medication or rest. Familiarize yourself with emergency symptoms and seek immediate medical attention if you suspect an issue.

If your lower back pain extends beyond four weeks, your doctor or physical therapy specialist may recommend imagining to ensure there’s no broken bone or other obvious reason for the pain. If you’re also or alternatively experiencing upper back, neck pain, flank pain, lumbar spine, or chronic pain, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with your local physical therapy specialist. Don’t live in discomfort. Schedule a same-day appointment with Synergy Rehab to alleviate your back pain on one side today.