Chronic Pain

The Truth about Lower Back Pain

Print
Share
Save

Almost everyone has low back pain at some point in their lives.   Pain in the lower back, otherwise known as the lumbar region, is one of the top causes of being absent from work.  Symptoms of low back pain vary from dull ache to a stabbing or shooting sensation.  Acute back pain occurs all of a sudden after an injury from sports or heavy lifting.  Pain which lasts longer than three months is considered chronic.  Symptoms that require urgent care include loss of bowel or bladder control, numbness in the groin area, leg weakness, fever, or pain when coughing or urinating.


Back pain following heavy lifting or exercise is usually caused by muscle strain.  Sometimes, back pain can be caused by a disc that bulges or ruptures.  If a bulging or ruptured disc puts pressure on the sciatic nerve, pain may run down one leg.  This is known as sciatica.


Other causes of back pain may include your job if you are lifting, pulling, or doing anything that contorts the spine.  Sitting at a desk all day may also be a cause particularly if your chair is uncomfortable or if you slouch.  Carrying a heavy bag may cause a strain on the lower back.  Excessive activities at the gym or while playing golf may also lead to low back pain.  Good posture prevents strains on the lower back.  It is important to have good lumbar support when sitting as well as evenly balancing your weight on your feet when standing.


 A herniated disc is often to blame for low back pain.  The vertebrae are padded by gel-like discs that are worn down by injuries and the passage of time.  A weak disc may rupture or bulge, causing pressure on the spinal nerve roots.  This can cause immense pain.


There are also a number of chronic conditions that may lead to low back pain.  Spinal stenosis  may decrease the amount of space surrounding the spinal cord which can put pressure on the spinal nerves.  Spondylitis causes chronic back pain and stiffness because of severe inflammation of the spinal joints.  Fibromyalgia also causes muscle aches and back pain.


The chance to experience low back pain increases with  age.  Many experience back pain in their 30's.  Other reasons  for low back pain include being overweight, being sedentary, or lifting heavy items while at work.


Back pain caused by muscle strain often resolves itself, but measures can be taken to make yourself more comfortable such as a heating pad or warm baths.  Though bed rest may be beneficial at first, many doctors recommend returning to your normal activities.  Research indicates that more than a day or two of rest may actually worsen the pain and reduce muscle tone and flexibility.  Including Yoga as part of your treatment regimen may decrease the amount of low back pain.  Spinal manipulation conducted by chiropractors and osteopathic doctors may treat low back pain by applying pressure to bones and surrounding tissues.  Massage therapy may also be helpful when combined with exercise and stretching.  


Medications including over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen, as well as pain-relieving creams may be suggested for muscle aches.  For more severe pain, your doctor may suggest prescription medication.   If other therapies and medications are ineffective, your doctor may recommend injections, such as a nerve root block which targets irritated nerves.  Injections usually contain steroid medication.  If other treatments have not been successful in treating your back pain, surgery may be recommended.  Depending on the type of pain, a surgeon may remove a herniated disc, increase the space around the spinal cord, or may fuse two spinal vertebrae together.


Inactivity for an extended period of time may be treated by a rehabilitation program that will strengthen your muscles and help you return to your daily routine.  A couple of strength-training motions that may help the lower back are flexion and extension exercises.  Depending on your pain, it may be beneficial to do exercises that are safe for you.


In preventing low back pain, it is recommended that you maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, lift with your legs not your back, and make sure your posture is optimal while at work.