Lower back pain will affect over 80 percent of the population at some point in their lives, according to Spine Health. The muscles, joints and organs that contribute to lower back pain are symmetrical, meaning that pain on the left side will have the same causes as pain on the right side. Single-sided back pain, or flank pain, may be referred -- or sent -- from another location or originate directly from damaged tissue. If your pain is severe or prolonged, do not self-diagnose; see your doctor instead.
Scrutinize your activities over the past few days. If you were more active than usual, or were lifting weights or moving heavy furniture, the back pain is likely due to muscle strain.
Study how you sit during the day. If you spend long hours at a desk job, your chair may not provide proper back support. Try a more ergonomically designed chair.
Note if you feel tingling, weakness or pain radiating down your leg that is worse with activity. This can be a sign of a herniated disk, a bulging of the soft cushion between the vertebrae. When the disk is herniated, it bulges out and presses on the nerves around the spine. Also called sciatica, this pain travels along the sciatic nerve.
Ask a loved one or friend to look at the skin of your back. A red rash that appears after pain begins can be a sign of shingles. Described as a "creepy-crawly" and often severe pain, shingles is a recurrence of the chickenpox virus. If you have had chickenpox, you can get shingles even years later. This can be a very uncomfortable and dangerous condition that requires a doctor's care.
Examine your urine to look for signs of blood or burning during urination. Back pain associated with fever and blood in the urine may be due to a kidney infection or kidney stones. This, too, requires a medical examination.
Move gently to see if there is severe pain with any movement. If you are over the age of 60 and have osteoporosis or arthritis, you may have a broken bone in your back. FamilyDoctor.org recommends immediately visiting an emergency department.
Check your joints for swelling or pain. Joint pain with back pain and stiffness in the morning may indicate arthritis.