More Slideshows from eMedicineHealth
What Is Low Back Pain?
Nearly everyone will experience some form of back pain in his or her lifetime. The low back is the area behind the belly from the rib cage to the pelvis and is also called the lumbar region. Back pain is a major cause of missed work. Low back pains usually resolve on their own and are commonly the result of a strain injury. There are many treatments for low back pain.
Low Back Pain Symptoms
Low back pain symptoms range from sharp and stabbing to a dull ache. The pains can be constant or intermittent and positional. Acute low back pain can appear suddenly after injury. Chronic back pain is defined as pain lasting more than three months. Consult a doctor if you have prolonged back pain longer than 72 hours.
Symptoms That Require Urgent Care
Severe back pain after an injury should be evaluated by a health-care professional. Warning signs of more serious injury include pain with coughing or urinating, loss of control of the bowels or bladder, new leg weakness, and fever. These additional symptoms require medical evaluation.
Is It Muscle Strain or Sciatica?
Back pain that occurs after excessive exercise or heavy lifting is frequently a strain injury. However, occasionally these activities cause disc injury and rupture or herniation. When a herniated disc irritates the sciatic nerve, it can cause pain that radiates down the back and buttock to the leg. This pain is referred to as sciatica.
Back Pain Causes: Your Job
A job that involves pulling, lifting, or twisting with the low back can cause injury and low back pain. Even prolonged sitting in an awkward position can cause low back pain.
Back Pain Causes: Your Bag
Carrying an overstuffed purse, briefcase, or handbag can strain the low back. If you must carry a heavy load, consider using a wheeled briefcase instead.
Back Pain Causes: Your Workout
Many forms of exercise can strain the muscles of the low back and lead to low back pain. This is especially common with weekend warriors who do not exercise during the week but only on weekends.
Back Pain Causes: Your Posture
The back provides optimal support when we stand properly and do not slouch. Sitting with proper support for the low back with shoulders back and even a foot rest can prevent low back pain. Proper balance on the feet when standing can also minimize the risk of developing low back pain while up.
Back Pain Causes: Herniated Disc
The vertebrae, or bony building blocks, of the spine are cushioned in between gel-like discs. These discs can degenerate with aging and are prone to injury as a result. When a disc ruptures, it is referred to as a herniated disc, which can cause significant pain.
Back Pain Causes: Chronic Conditions
Conditions that can lead to chronic low back pain include spinal stenosis, spondylitis, and fibromyalgia. Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the normal spinal canal through which the spinal cord passes. Spondylitis is chronic inflammation of the spine. Fibromyalgia is a muscle disorder that features chronic muscle pain and tenderness.
Who's at Risk for Low Back Pain?
People develop low back pain first often in the third and fourth decades of life. The risk of low back pain increases with age. Low back pain can also be caused by jobs that require heaving lifting, being overweight, and inactivity.
Diagnosing Low Back Pain
Your description of your back pain is very important for your doctor to diagnose your condition properly. It can be helpful to note when and where the back pain began, what activities you do, related symptoms, and any chronic medical conditions. Other tools the doctor may use to assess your condition include X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans.
Home Care for Low Back Pain
Acute back pain from muscle strain often resolves spontaneously. However, home remedies that can make you more comfortable include warm baths and heating pad application.
The Bed Rest Debate
Doctors often recommend continuing your usual activities of daily living as soon as possible. More recent studies suggest that strict bedrest can often prolong or worsen low back pain.
Yoga can be helpful for chronic low back pain. Conventional stretching also can be beneficial. An experienced instructor who understands back pain issues can be helpful in customizing the workout.
Spinal manipulation is used by chiropractors and osteopathic physicians to treat low back pain in selected patients. Spinal manipulation applies hand pressure to areas of the low back to relax irritated muscle and lessen the intensity of the pain.
Studies have shown that massage treatments can help relieve chronic low back pain. Massage treatment can restore people to their usual activities of daily living and lessen pain.
While the results of scientific studies of acupuncture for low back pain are mixed, it is often used for those who fail traditional treatments and can be helpful for certain individuals.
Back pain can be helped with over-the-counter pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), naproxen (Aleve), and ibuprofen (Advil). Pain-reliever creams can also be helpful. For more severe pain, prescription medications are sometimes used.
Certain injections of anesthetics or cortisone-related medicines can be helpful for some forms of back pain.
When chronic back pain interferes with daily function and other treatments have failed, surgery can be helpful for some. Surgical options vary for each individual but include removal of bone and tissue around the spinal cord, disc removal, and spinal fusion.
Rehabilitation programs can not only help in the healing but also decrease the risk of reinjuring the low back. Guided physical therapy with stretching, strengthening, and low-impact exercises are used to optimize short- and long-term outcomes.
Strengthening the Back
Flexion and extension exercises are commonly used to prevent low back pain. Be sure to review with the doctor any program you are considering.
Preventing Low Back Pain
Steps to lower your risk of back pain as you age include exercising regularly (and not irregularly), maintaining a healthy weight, lifting with the legs and not the low back, and optimizing your work station.
Related Reading Topics