What Is Low Back Pain?
Low back pain can range from annoying pain, dull, mild, to severe, persistent, disabling pain in the lower back. Pain in the spine can limit mobility and intervene with normal functioning.
What Causes Low Back Pain?
The root cause of low back pain can be hard to determine. Typically, back pain may be a symptom of many different reasons, including:
- Vigorous activity, overuse, or inappropriate use (such as repetitive or heavy lifting, exposure to vibration for extended periods)
- Degeneration of vertebrae (usually caused by stresses on the muscles and ligaments that support the spine or the effects of aging)
- Abnormal growth (tumor)
- Obesity (often raises weight on the spine and pressure on the disks)
- Poor muscle tone in the back
- Muscle strain or spasm
- Sprain or strain
- Ligament or muscle tears
- Joint issues (such as spinal stenosis)
- Protruding or herniated (slipped) disc
- Disease (such as spondylitis, osteoarthritis, compression fractures)
Symptoms Of Low Back Pain
Low back pain is categorized as acute (short term) and chronic. Acute back pain persists from a few days to a couple of weeks. Most severe low back pain will resolve on its own. Chronic low back pain remains for at least three months and often gets worse. The reason for chronic low back pain can be tough to discover.
These are the most prevalent symptoms of low back pain. Symptoms may include pain or discomfort in the lower spine that’s:
- Sharp or dull
- Well-defined or vague
The pain may radiate into one or both buttocks or perhaps into the thigh or hip area.
The symptoms of low back pain might look like other conditions or medical issues. Always see your health care specialist for a diagnosis.
How Is Low Back Pain Diagnosed?
With a physical examination and complete medical history, tests for low back pain may include:
- X-ray. A test that uses electromagnetic energy rays to create pictures of bones on film.
- CT scan. An imaging scan that uses X-rays and computer technology to develop axial, or horizontal, images (frequently known as slices) of the body. A CT scan shows complete images of any part of the body, including the muscles, bones, fat, and organs. CT scans are more accurate than general X-rays.
- A test which uses large magnets and a computer to create detailed pictures of organs and structures in the body.
- Radionuclide bone scans. A nuclear imaging technique that uses a tiny amount of radioactive substance, which can be injected into the patient’s blood to be detected by a scanner. This test shows blood circulation to the bone and cell activity within the bone.
- Electromyogram (EMG). A test to examine muscle and nerve function.
- How is low back pain treated?
Treatment may include:
- Activity modification
- Occupational therapy
- Physical therapy, rehabilitation, or both
- Osteopathic manipulation
- No smoking
- Following a prevention program (as advised by your physician)
- Weight loss (if overweight)
- Assistive devices (such as mechanical back supports)
Rehabilitation is often a part of therapy for low back pain. Usually, there are three stages of low back pain rehabilitation.
- Acute phase. In this initial phase, the physiatrist (a physician who specializes in rehabilitation medicine) and therapy team develop a strategy to decrease the initial low back pain and source of inflammation. This might include using ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or specialized injections.
- Recovery stage. After the initial pain and swelling are better managed, the rehabilitation team focuses on assisting you in returning to normal daily activities while starting a specialized exercise program to regain strength and flexibility.
- Maintenance stage. In this stage, you will learn methods to prevent further injury and strain to the back, and how to begin a fitness program to help further increase endurance and strength.
Can Low Back Pain Be Prevented?
The following may help to prevent low back pain:
- Maintain the right position while sitting, standing, and sleeping
- Avoid smoking
- Exercise daily (with proper stretching ahead )
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Use proper lifting methods
- Reduce stress which may cause muscle strain
When Should I Call My Healthcare Provider?
Call your healthcare provider if:
- Your pain gets worse or spreads to your hips, thighs, or thighs
- Your pain medication no longer works well for you
- Your pain begins to interfere with your daily activities or interferes with activities more than usual
Living With Low Back Pain
Most back pain will ease in a few days to a couple of weeks. If the pain lasts more than three months, it’s considered chronic, and you need to talk to your healthcare provider. Recovery from lower back pain may take some time. To prevent back pain from coming back, it is essential to follow good health practices, such as:
- Keeping a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Practicing good lifting techniques
- Maintaining good posture when sitting, standing, and sleeping
- Avoiding smoking
Back pain is deemed chronic if it remains for three months or longer. It can appear and go, usually providing short relief, with frustration.
Back pain rehab specialist Andrew Nava, M.D., offers insights into common chronic back pain causes and nonsurgical treatment options–and advise not to give up hope.
Non-surgical Treatment Options for Back Pain
Exercise is the basis of chronic pain therapy. It’s among the first treatments you should try under the advice of your doctor and spine physical therapist. However, the same set of exercises does not work for everybody, says Nava. The exercises need to be tailored to your particular symptoms and health. Sustaining the exercise routine at home is also a big part of success.
Physical therapy for chronic pain may include:
- Retraining your posture
- Aerobic exercises
- Core strengthening
- Testing the limits of pain tolerance
- Stretching and flexibility exercises
Mindfulness and Meditation
Chronic back pain is straining, both emotionally and physically. To manage the irritability, frustration, depression, and other psychological aspects of dealing with chronic pain, you may get referred to a rehabilitation psychologist. This specialist may recommend yoga, meditation, tai chi and different cognitive and relaxation approaches to keep your mind from focusing on pain
Some diets are highly inflammatory, particularly those high in trans fats, processed foods, and refined sugars. Consult with your physician to find out if your diet could be contributing to your chronic back pain and how you could manage it. Keeping a healthy weight could also help reduce your back pain by decreasing the strain on your spine.
When you have chronic pain, it is essential to accept your limitations and adapt. “Listen to your body and learn how to pace yourself,” advice Nava. Have a break when mowing the yard, or make several trips when carrying groceries. Observe the activities that worsen your pain and avoid them if possible. Not only could this help your back feel better, but it might also prevent the underlying condition from advancing. One other significant lifestyle change to test is giving up smoking. Nicotine is scientifically proven to accentuate the pain and delay recovery.
Nerve Cubes, nerve ablations, epidural steroid injections, and other sorts of injection-based processes are available for chronic back pain. They’re used when the source of the pain is understood and can sometimes help rule out specific causes if the method doesn’t work. Injections may stop or reduce the pain for a definite period, but aren’t intended as long-term solutions and should not be used in isolation.
Acupuncture, massage, biofeedback therapy, laser treatment, electric nerve stimulation, and other nonsurgical spine treatments may also make a difference for chronic back pain. Talk to your spine professional about alternative treatments that could benefit you.
Analgesics, muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and other medications can be used to help control chronic back pain. But most come with unknown side effects and aren’t meant for prolonged use.
“Opioid medications generally should not be used as the first, the only or the long-term field of treatment for chronic back pain,” urges Nava. A lot of them are addictive and do not address the root cause of your pain. Opioids should be directed only after a thorough test by a professional and when other medications have failed to offer relief. If you end up relying on opioids to get through the day, it could be time to find another opinion.
When is Surgery A Consideration for Back Pain?
These red flags can be signs for operation if they’re found to be related to a spine condition:
- Progressing or new bowel/bladder problems
- Weakness in limbs
- Gait and balance problems
- Proof of increased (brisk) reflexes
Surgery may be an option for chronic pain if there is a known cause confirmed by imaging and when other treatments did not help. “Get opinions from two surgeons, “indicates Nava, “as pain may come back, after the surgery.”