What Are Some Common Lower Back Pain Causes
The causes of lower back pain are sometimes viewed as being mechanical, organic or idiopathic. Sometimes spinal conditions are congenital or acquired meaning the disorder develops later in life.
Mechanical lower back pain is often triggered by spinal movement and involves spinal structures, such as the facet joints, intervertebral discs, vertebral bodies , ligaments, muscles or soft tissues.
Organic lower back pain is attributed to disease, such as spinal cancer.
Idiopathic refers to an unknown cause.
These are some of the things your doctor might look for or rule out when you schedule a visit for back pain.
The common symptoms of lower back pain.
Sprains and strains. Ligament sprains and muscle or tendon strains are the most common causes of lower back pain. Theyre often related to overuse.
Degenerative disc disease. While the name sounds worrisome, it just means you have a damaged disc causing pain. Over time, discs become thinner and flatter due to wear and tear. That leaves them less able to cushion the vertebrae and more likely to tear .
. The protective covering on intervertebral discs can tear over time. When this happens, the soft inner disc tissue may push through the outer layer. A disc that bulges or slips out of place is known as a herniated disc, bulging disc, or slipped disc. The herniation may press on nerve roots, leading to symptoms such as pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in the area that the nerve serves
Persistent Low Back Pain
Nonspecific low back pain is classed as chronic if it lasts for longer than six weeks. In some people it lasts for months, or even years. Symptoms may be constant. However, the more usual pattern is one in which symptoms follow an irregular course. That is, reasonably long periods of mild or moderate pain may be interrupted by bouts of more severe pain.
When Should I See A Doctor If I Have Lower Back Pain
In many cases lower back pain stops on its own. But if it doesnt, here are some guidelines on when you may want to start seeking professional help:
- If the pain lasts four weeks or longer
- If the pain keeps getting worse as time goes by
- If you are experiencing other symptoms, such as fever, major weight loss or weight gain, loss of function or weakness in extremities, bladder problems, etc.
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What We Offer You For Low Back Pain
- Center of Excellence for advanced care of all spine-related conditions.
- Nationally recognized expertise in treating all types of low back pain, no matter how complex.
- Precise diagnosis options including the latest imaging technology.
- Team-based treatment planning that brings together orthopaedic surgeons, neurologists and neurosurgeons, pain management specialists, rheumatologists, physiatrists, and others to tailor care to your needs.
- Advanced treatment options emphasizing noninvasive approaches whenever possible, including exercises, physical therapy, and medication therapy, and, when needed, spine surgery.
- Comprehensive support services including care coordination from diagnosis to treatment to follow-up.
- Active research program to develop new diagnostic and treatment advances.
Start With A Physiatrist
Unless you need to see a primary care provider for a referral, Dr. Dowdell suggests visiting a physiatrist as your first step. A physiatrist is the primary care doctor of the back, he explains. are fully focused on diagnosis and non-surgical treatment of musculoskeletal issues, so they may have more specialized knowledge than a PCP. Even if youve already told your family doctor about your back pain, its a good idea to talk to a physiatrist nextespecially if whatever youve been trying isnt working.
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How Long Does Lower Back Pain Usually Last
Lower back pain can be categorized as acute, subacute or chronic. Acute episodes of lower back pain usually last from a few days to 4 weeks and subacute lower back pain lasts between 4 to 12 weeks. However, according to the National Institutes of Health, about 20 percent of people with acute back pain go on to develop chronic back paindefined as pain that lasts 12 weeks or longer. Even in these cases, there are many different treatment options to help relieve lower back pain symptoms.
When your back is really killing you, you might worry something is seriously wrong. The same goes for back pain that seems unending. The good news is that while back pain is a major inconvenience, it is rarely an urgent medical issue. In fact, most of the time you dont have to treat it. Back pain usually resolves on its own unless you have a major underlying issue.
Where To Start With Back Pain
Low back pain is one of the most common complaints on the planet.
And when someone starts experiencing back pain it can be so frightening that we immediately want an expert that will somehow magically get rid of it.
Unfortunately, there’s just no unicorns and rainbows when it comes to solving back pain.
Realize that most back pain will resolve on its own. What I’m saying here is that your major ache or tweaked out back doesn’t require a specialist in most cases.
Some of the most common causes of acute or sudden back pain include an injury:
- to a muscle or tendon
- to a back ligament
- to a bulging disc .
And the reality is, many of these issues will eventually resolve on their own.
In my personal opinion, the first time someone starts to experience back pain, they should immediately start doing back extension exercises.
I would continue to do back extensions every 3-4 hours throughout the day for at least 3 days.
And if you notice that you’re feeling better, continue for another 1-2 weeks.
But if your low back pain doesn’t improve, then maybe there is something more serious happening.
More serious causes of back pain include:
- a narrowing of the spinal canal
- disc tears or herniations
- severe degenerative disc disease
- spinal infections
So if your back pain doesn’t improve with back extensions and modified activities, then you’d want to consider someone who is qualified to properly assess the situation.
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Stand Up And Walk Around Once An Hour
Walking engages muscles such as the hamstrings, hip flexors and erector muscles located in the spine. Avoid being sedentary and sitting all day by getting up and walking around the house or office every hour. I also highly recommend getting in a longer 30-minute walk on your lunch break. Walking can drastically improve low-back pain by lessening agitation in the joints from remaining stagnant for long periods of time. Plus, its a great energy and mood booster during the work day!
Chiropractic Care For Back Pain
It may take several types of tests including x-rays, MRIs, and blood tests, to determine the exact cause of your back pain.
And you may need more than one expert managing your back pain.
It really just depends on your specific situation and the amount of damage that has occurred in your spine.
But for back sprains, strains, and even herniated discs, a visit to your local chiropractor may be all it takes to start feeling better.
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Injections And Other Procedures
If you have severe sciatica, your doctor may suggest an epidural injection. Epidural injections contain a local anaesthetic and steroid to relieve pain and reduce inflammation. Theyre only recommended for sciatica and not non-specific lower back pain.
If your back pain is chronic and other treatments havent helped, your doctor may suggest a procedure called radiofrequency denervation. Its only suitable for certain types of back pain. Your doctor will refer you to a specialist to assess whether it would help you.
It All Starts With Speaking To Your Doctor
The first step is to talk to your primary care physician about your back pain. They have a more holistic view of your health. So its a good idea to consult with them before seeing a specialist.
Perhaps youve already had an initial consultation with your doctor. Maybe youve even had an imaging study, like an MRI, done on your lower back. Those are great initial actions. Now its time to discuss your treatment options.
Your PCP can lay out the different routes you can take to manage your pain. And they can make suggestions as to what options are best for you. Your primary care doctor is familiar with your medical history. So they can also give you an idea of additional health benefits a particular therapy may provide you.
Talking to your PCP will ensure you are working together to develop a clear treatment plan. Thats the most important step towards feeling better.
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What Does It Mean If Lower Back Pain Is Shooting Into Legs
Lower back pain can radiate to other parts of the body: up or down from its place of origin. Sometimes lower back pain can be on one side of the back, which is also normal.
If the pain is shooting from the lower back into one or both legs, it could be sciatica , but its not always the case. There are many parts in the lower back that may cause the pain to radiate into the legs, such as facet joints, sacroiliac joints, muscles or inflammation of the bursa.
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Who Will Likely Refer You To A Physical Therapist
Generally, the first course of action for ongoing back pain is six weeks of physical therapy, plus at-home treatments like those mentioned earlier in the article.
can also do assessments of how youre sitting, standing and movingand show you how to improve your workspace and posture, for instance. And theyll create an exercise or movement program thats designed to help your back feel better.
Which Lifestyle Factors Contribute To Lower Back Pain
There are three major lifestyle factors that may affect your chances of developing lower back pain:
- Multiple studies have established a link between smoking and lower back pain. Smoking raises inflammation inside the body and hinders the body from healing itself.
- Obesity is also associated with several types of chronic pain, including lower back pain. In people with high body mass index , the stress on the spine increases, contributing to even more wear and tear.
- Your level of physical activity can also play a role in your lower back health. While a sedentary lifestyle could increase your risk of developing lower back pain, so can excessive or strenuous physical activity. Check with your doctor if you are unsure about your ideal level of physical activity.
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Treatments For Low Back Pain
Treatment may have one or more of the following goals:
- Relieve pain and any other symptoms
- Prevent the condition from getting worse
- Prevent the condition from returning
- Help you get back to an active lifestyle
The best care plan for low back pain is often a mix of treatments.
The best treatment option for you depends on your condition, overall health, and other factors. Your doctor may recommend one or more approaches, such as:
The doctor may recommend that you try certain exercises to help relieve symptoms and strengthen your back. The recommendations may include yoga or other activities. But your doctor also may recommend that you reduce or stop other exercises to help your healing.
Certain steps you can take to protect your overall health also can help relieve symptoms and speed healing of your lower back. Examples include losing weight and stopping smoking.
Cold and heat therapy
Specialists in our physical therapy program use the latest techniques and technologies to help relieve your low back pain. Our goals are also to help you return to a more active lifestyle and reduce the risk of reinjuring your back in the future. In some cases, low back pain may affect your posture or ability to walk normally. Our physical therapists can help you get back in step.
Massage may help reduce pain and relieve tension in muscles.
Applying pressure on joints of the spine may help improve pain and function.
Muscle Strain Or Sprain
A muscle strain or sprain is the most common cause of low back pain.
A strain is a tear or stretching in a tendon or muscle, while a sprain is a tear or stretching in a ligament.
Sprains and strains usually happen when you twist or lift something improperly, lift something heavy, or overstretch your back muscles.
These injuries can cause swelling, difficulty moving, and back spasms.
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How Is Low Back Pain Treated
Treatment may include:
- A prevention program
- Assistive devices
Rehabilitation is often a part of treatment for low back pain. Generally, there are 3 phases of low back pain rehab.
- Acute phase. During this initial phase, the physiatrist and treatment team develop a plan to reduce the initial low back pain and source of inflammation. This may include using ultrasound, electrical stimulation, or specialized injections.
- Recovery phase. Once the initial pain and inflammation are better managed, the rehab team focuses on helping you return to normal daily activities while starting a specialized exercise program to regain flexibility and strength.
- Maintenance phase. In this phase, you will learn ways to prevent further injury and strain to the back. You will also learn how to start a fitness program to help further increase strength and endurance.
Can I Prevent Lower Back Pain
You cant prevent lower back pain that results from disease or structural problems in the spine. But you can avoid injuries that cause back pain.
To reduce your risk of a back injury, you should:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Excess weight puts pressure on vertebrae and disks.
- Strengthen your abdominal muscles: Pilates and other exercise programs strengthen core muscles that support the spine.
- Lift the right way: To avoid injuries, lift with your legs . Hold heavy items close to your body. Try not to twist your torso while youre lifting.
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Seeking Help For Lower Back Pain
You may not need to seek help from a health professional for lower back pain. Most people find their lower back pain improves by itself within a few weeks. But if there’s no improvement after two to three weeks or the pain is getting worse, seek advice from a GP or physiotherapist. It’s also worth seeking help if your back pain is stopping you from doing normal activities, or if it goes on longer than six weeks.
Physiotherapists are often best placed to help with back pain. In some areas, you may be able to self-refer to a physiotherapist on the NHS, whereas in others you need a referral through your GP. You can also choose to pay for private physiotherapy.
There are some circumstances when you should always see a doctor straightaway for back pain though. These include if:
- you have numbness or tingling around your bottom or genitals
- you cant control your bladder or bowels
- youre unsteady when you walk, or your legs or feet feel weak, you have sudden, severe lower back pain
- youve been in a major accident, such as a traffic collision or fall
- you have osteoporosis
- theres a visible deformity in your back
- the pain continues when youre lying down or overnight, disturbing your sleep
- you have a history of cancer or have had a recent bacterial infection
- you also have a fever, chills or unexplained weight loss
These can be signs of more serious problems.
What Causes Lower Back Pain & How To Relieve It
Lower back pain is a common condition that affects four out of five people at some point in their life. Lower back pain ranges from mild to severe and can make it difficult to work, sleep, and enjoy daily activities.
Back pain is classified by duration and may be:
Acute: Comes on suddenly, often caused by something specific such as an injury.Chronic: Lasts for more than three months.
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What Are Some Other Causes Of Lower Back Pain
The shape of your spine, and well as spinal diseases, are other culprits in lower back pain. Depending on a range of factors, your doctor may look for:
Abnormal spinal curvature. A normal spine resembles a gently curved letter S when seen from the side. Abnormal curves include:
Lordosis, in which the spine curves too far inward at the lower back
Kyphosis, in which the spine is abnormally rounded in the upper back
, in which the spine curves from side to side, often in a C shape
Normal and abnormal curves of the spine
Arthritis. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, many of which can cause lower back pain. The most common types include osteoarthritis , , and .
. Compression of the bundle of nerves that forms below the spinal cord in the lumbar spine. It is a rare but serious disorder that requires immediate medical attention and possibly emergency surgery. CES got its name from the fact that the fanned-out bundle of nerves resembles the base of a horses tail.
. Both infections of discs and bone can cause severe pain and require prompt medical attention.
. Your bones lose mass faster than it can be replaced, making them brittle. They can even fracture with little or no warning. These fractures are especially common in the spine, where they’re called vertebral compression fractures. Both men and women lose bone mass as they age, but postmenopausal women lose it much faster and so are more at risk for osteoporosis.