Tips To Strengthen Your 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.
Easy Low Back Exercises
- Ankle Pumps: Lie on your back and move ankles up and down.
- Heel Slides: Lie on your back and bend then straighten the knees one at a time.
- Wall Squats: With your back flat against a wall, sit like you would in a chair with your knees lined up over your ankles. Gently press against the wall, keeping your abdominal muscles tight. Hold for five seconds.
- Single Knee to Chest Stretch: Lying down with back flat, pull your knee into the chest.
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What Can Cause Lower Back Pain
Most acute low back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning that there is a disruption in the way the components of the back fit together and move. Some examples of mechanical causes of low back pain include:
- Skeletal irregularities such as scoliosis , lordosis , kyphosis , and other congenital anomalies of the spine.
- Spina bifida which involves the incomplete development of the spinal cord and/or its protective covering and can cause problems involving malformation of vertebrae and abnormal sensations and even paralysis.
- Sprains , strains , and spasms
- Traumatic Injury such as from playing sports, car accidents, or a fall that can injure tendons, ligaments, or muscle causing the pain, as well as compress the spine and cause discs to rupture or herniate.
- Intervertebral disc degeneration which occurs when the usually rubbery discs wear down as a normal process of aging and lose their cushioning ability.
- Spondylosis the general degeneration of the spine associated with normal wear and tear that occurs in the joints, discs, and bones of the spine as people get older.
- Arthritis or other inflammatory disease in the spine, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis as well as spondylitis, an inflammation of the vertebrae.
Nerve and spinal cord problems
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How Is Low Back Pain Diagnosed
Your doctor will likely begin by requesting a complete medical history and conducting a thorough physical examination to determine where youre feeling the pain. A physical exam can also determine if pain is affecting your range of motion.
Your doctor may also check your reflexes and your responses to certain sensations. This determines if your low back pain is affecting your nerves.
Unless you have concerning or debilitating symptoms or neurologic loss, your doctor will probably monitor your condition for a few weeks before sending you for testing. This is because most low back pain resolves using simple self-care treatments.
Certain symptoms require more testing, including:
- lack of bowel control
- weight loss
Likewise, if your low back pain continues after home treatment, your doctor may want to order additional tests.
Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms in addition to low back pain.
- bone problems
- disc problems
- problems with the ligaments and tendons in your back
If your doctor suspects a problem with the strength of the bones in your back, they may order a bone scan or bone density test. Electromyography or nerve conduction tests can help identify any problems with your nerves.
The Healthline FindCare tool can provide options in your area if you need help finding a doctor.
What Should I Know About Back Pain
Back pain is a very common problem and will affect many of us at some point during our lives.
The good news is that in most cases it isnt a serious problem, and it might just be caused by a simple strain to a muscle or ligament.
As far as possible, its best to continue with your normal everyday activities as soon as you can and to keep moving.
Being active and exercising wont make your back pain worse, even if you have a bit of pain and discomfort at first. Staying active will help you get better. Taking painkillers can help you do this.
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The Importance Of An Accurate Diagnosis
The physician will need to take a careful medical history and do a physical exam to look for certain red flags that indicate the need for an X-ray or other imaging test. In most cases, however, imaging such as X-ray, MRI , or CT scan is unnecessary.
There may also be certain clues in a patients medical history. Low back, nonradiating pain is commonly due to muscle strain and spasm. Pain that radiates into the buttock and down the leg may be due to , a condition in which a bulging disc presses on the sciatic nerve, which extends down the spinal column to its exit point in the pelvis and carries nerve fibers to the leg. This nerve compression causes pain in the lower back radiating through the buttocks and down one leg, which can go to below the knee, often combined with localized areas of numbness. In the most extreme cases, the patient experiences weakness in addition to numbness and pain, which suggests the need for quick evaluation.
A persistent shooting or tingling pain may suggest lumbar disc disease. A pain that comes and goes, reaching a peak and then quieting for a minute or two, only to reach a peak again, may suggest an altogether different cause of back pain, such as a kidney stone.
When tumor or infection are suspected, the doctor may order blood tests, including a CBC and sedimentation rate .
How Is Back Pain Treated
Non-surgical treatment with limited rest and over the counter pain relievers is sufficient treatment for most patients like you. In some people, a supervised physical therapy program for ongoing mechanical pain may be recommended. Talk to your healthcare provider to see which treatment is right for you.
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Overlooked Remedies For Lower Back Pain Relief
When lower back pain persists and continues to interfere with your quality of life, multiple treatment options may be needed for adequate relief. Below are some back pain treatments that are commonly overlooked or underused. Try one or more of these remedies to see which one, or combination, works best for you.
When To Contact A Medical Professional
- Back pain after a severe blow or fall
- Burning with urination or blood in your urine
- History of cancer
- Loss of control over urine or stool
- Pain traveling down your legs below the knee
- Pain that is worse when you lie down or pain that wakes you up at night
- Redness or swelling on the back or spine
- Severe pain that does not allow you to get comfortable
- Unexplained fever with back pain
- Weakness or numbness in your buttocks, thigh, leg, or pelvis
Also call if:
- You have been losing weight unintentionally
- You use steroids or intravenous drugs
- You have had back pain before, but this episode is different and feels worse
- This episode of back pain has lasted longer than 4 weeks
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When Are Diagnostic Tests For Lower Back Pain Necessary
Many patients do not need X-rays in the first few weeks of pain because their pain will end up resolving. Many more do not need CT scans or MRI imaging, which are overly sensitive and often reveal abnormalities not related to the patients pain. These forms of imaging can be extremely useful, however, if a person has chronic or severe pain, and/or neurological symptoms. Blood tests may be ordered if an infection or tumor is suspected.
Surgery For Lower Back Pain
Because the vast majority of patients recover from their low back pain with little help from a doctor, the rationale behind choosing surgery must be convincing. Eighty percent of patients with sciatica recover eventually without surgery.
Severe progressive nerve problems, bowel or bladder dysfunction and the cauda equina syndrome make up the most clear-cut indications for back surgery. Back surgery will also be considered if the patients signs and symptoms correlate well with studies such as MRI or electromyogram .
In the most serious cases, when the condition does not respond to other therapies, surgery may well be necessary to relieve pain caused by back problems. Some common procedures include:
- Discectomy, such as a or removal of a portion of a
- a bone graft that promotes the vertebrae to fuse together
- removal of the lamina to create more space and reduce irritation and inflammation
References and useful links
- 1, 2. Excerpted from Low Back Pain Fact Sheet, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health
- Low Back Pain Fact Sheet, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health. Reviewed, July 26, 2003.
- Deyo RA, Weinstein JN, Low Back Pain, N Engl J Med, Vol 344, No. 5, Feb 1, 2001, pp 363-370.
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Why Experts Recommend It
Tylenol is a good alternative for those who have any underlying conditions in which a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug would not be appropriate. It is an effective pain reliever with fewer side effects than NSAIDS.
There are also stronger formulations, such as extra-strength Tylenol specifically designed for arthritis relief. The high-dose form has a greater risk of side effects and serious complications.
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Common Causes Of Chronic Back Pain
Chronic back painis usually age-related, but can also result from a prior injury. The mostcommon causes include:
- Arthritis of the spinethe gradual thinning of the cartilage inside the spine
- Spinal stenosisnarrowing of the spinal canal that may lead to nerve pain
- Disc problems, such as a herniated or bulging disc
- Myofascial pain syndromeunexplained muscle pain and tenderness
In some cases, its difficult to pinpoint the cause of chronic back pain.If your doctor has exhausted all diagnostic options, its time to seek asecond opinion from a back pain specialist, recommends Nava. Itsimportant not to make rushed decisions or undergo extensive medicalprocedures until the origin of the pain is found. Not only may they nothelp they could make the pain worse, warns Nava.
If the source of the pain is not known or cant be treated, your bestoption may be to work with your doctor on reducing the flare-ups and makingthe pain manageable with nonsurgical treatments.
Back Pain Causes and Treatments Webinar | Stephanie Van, M.D.
Chronic back pain is a persistent source of discomfort for many adults. In this webinar, our expert Stephanie Van, M.D., discusses common causes of back pain along with strategies for relief.
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Try To Boost Your Mood
No, the lower back pain isnt in your head, but obsessing over it could be making it worse. Fear, anxiety, and catastrophizing can amplify pain, says Dr. Mackey. Because brain circuits that process pain overlap dramatically with circuits involved with emotions, panic can translate into actual pain. Start by accepting that you have pain, Dr. Mackey says. Then say to yourself, it will get better. If you struggle with overall mental wellbeingsay, you have anxiety or depressionin addition to your physical aches, it could be worth seeing a therapist to manage negative thought processes while exploring other lower back pain treatments.
What Causes Lower Back Pain
Many injuries, conditions and diseases can cause lower back pain. They include:
- Strains and sprains: Back strains and sprains are the most common cause of back pain. You can injure muscles, tendons or ligaments by lifting something too heavy or not lifting safely. Some people strain their back by sneezing, coughing, twisting or bending over.
- Fractures: The bones in the spine can break during an accident, like a car crash or a fall. Certain conditions increase the risk of fractures.
- Disk problems: Disks cushion the vertebrae . Disks can bulge from their position in the spine and press on a nerve. They can also tear . With age, disks can get flatter and offer less protection .
- Structural problems: A condition called spinal stenosis happens when the spinal column is too narrow for the spinal cord. Something pinching the spinal cord can cause severe sciatic nerve pain and lower back pain. Scoliosis can lead to pain, stiffness and difficulty moving.
- Arthritis: Osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis to cause lower back pain. Ankylosing spondylitis causes lower back pain, inflammation and stiffness in the spine.
- Disease:Spine tumors, infections and several types of cancer can cause back pain. Other conditions can cause back pain, too. These include kidney stones and abdominal aortic aneurysm.
- Spondylolisthesis: This condition causes the vertebrae in the spine to slip out of place. Spondylolisthesis leads to low back pain and often leg pain as well.
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Pain Management For Chronic Back Pain
Pain, especially intractable or chronic pain, used to be something many patients simply had to learn to live with. In recent years, however, researchers have learned a great deal about pain and its physiological and psychological basis, leading to pain management treatments that can provide complete or partial pain relief.
Untreated pain can interfere with the healing process by affecting the immune system and leading to other undesirable results. In cases of back pain, discomfort can impede the rehabilitation process by interfering with exercise and increasing the risk of psychological distress.
This article profiles the profession of Pain Management and the main approaches used to treat chronic pain.
Back Exercises And Stretches
Simple back exercises and stretches can often help reduce back pain. These can be done at home as often as you need to.
For information about exercises and stretches that can help, see:
A GP may be able to provide information about back exercises if youre unsure what to try, or you may want to consider seeing a physiotherapist for advice. Read about how to get access to physiotherapy.
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Take A Relaxing Epsom Salt Bath
Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, works its way through the skin and into sore muscles. Soaking for about 20 minutes can help to ease sore back muscles, especially after exercise.
When taking an Epsom salt bath, youll want to make sure the water is warm. Hot water can cause muscles to swell and cold water can cause muscles to cramp. The Arthritis Foundation recommends a temperature between 92 and 100°F . Temperatures higher than 104°F arent recommended, especially if you have heart problems.
You can also enhance the soothing results by bringing a tennis ball or other rubber ball thats similar in size, with you in the tub. Put it on the small of your back or midback and move side to side. The effect is like a massage to your back, and it further loosens up tight muscles.
An added benefit of Epsom salt is that its great for your skin. Epsom salts can exfoliate dead skin cells, soften the skin, and reduce areas of itchiness.
Fall Asleep Faster And Sleep Longer
When you have a restful nights sleep, your back will feel less sore during the day.7 A night of restorative sleep can have healing benefits and make you feel refreshed, rejuvenated, and less stressed.
Try these natural sleep aids, one at a time, to see which one works best for you:
- Vitamins C and B6. The natural steroids in your body control your metabolism and promote good sleep.8,9 Supplements of vitamins C10 and B611 are known to help the body produce and regulate natural steroid hormones.
- Melatonin. Your natural sleep hormone, melatonin can be taken as a supplement to improve your sleep cycle.
- L-theanine. An amino acid found in tea leaves, L-theanine may help some people feel relaxed and get better sleep.
- Valerian. Supplements made from the root of the valerian plant may help you sleep faster and stay asleep longer.
Another option is cherry juice or cherry extractscherries contain certain enzymes that help promote better sleep.4
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Ways To Treat Chronic Back Pain Without Surgery
Back pain is considered chronic if it lasts three months or longer. It cancome and go, often bringing temporary relief, followed by frustration.Dealing with chronic back pain can be especially trying if you dont knowthe cause.
When To See A Doctor
People can often treat back pain with home remedies and some patience. However, a person should speak with a healthcare professional about chronic or severe back pain.
A healthcare professional may recommend physical therapy, medication, or other treatments. People with existing health conditions or who take regular medications should speak with a medical professional before trying herbal medications or supplements.
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