Reports show that 80% of Americans suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. It is the leading cause of job absenteeism and is more prevalent for individuals between the age brackets of 30 – 50. At this time of life, aging takes its toll on the vertebrae discs thus causing discomfort and pain in parts of the spine.
Lower back pain can be subdivided into two categories – acute and chronic. Acute pain tends to last a few days or weeks and the body’s natural healing mechanism can gradually remedy this. Chronic pain on the other hand is persistent and can even last up to 3 months or longer.
In this guide, we’ll be exploring the causes of lower back pain, symptoms to watch out for, diagnosis, and viable treatment plans. Fortunately, surgery is not the only escape from back problems and we’re about to show you some great alternatives.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
Lower back pain can be affiliated with a ton of underlying conditions or diseases and while this may be true, it can also be induced by injuries, sudden movements, and twists, or nerve root damage. Here are some of the common causes;
Muscle Tear or Sprain
This happens when a muscle is overly stretched to the extent that a tear occurs. The ligaments get affected and what may start as a burning sensation eventually builds up to acute pain. Most muscle tears result after an accident; perhaps when lifting a very heavy object, a fall, sports injuries, or poor posture over time.
Lumbar Herniated Disc
This is more of a severe condition that likely ends up chronic depending on the severity. It happens when the lumbar disc is exposed to micro-tears that force the fluid center out of its casing. The bulging portion applies pressure on the surrounding nerves causing pain and inflammation.
Here, the intervertebral discs begin to lose their water and protein content as a result of aging. Degenerative changes in the bone are called Osteoporosis. This is a disease characterized by thinning of cartilage and reduction of bone density. With time, fragile discs and bones become prone to injury.
Apart from fractures and dislocations, curving of the spine induces back spasms. It accelerates poor posture too. Some are born with this condition while others develop it later in life due to various reasons. The abnormal curving places pressure on tendons, ligaments, lower back muscles, and the vertebrae.
Arthritis is a disease caused by inflamed joints. It is characterized by pain during movement and may worsen into stiffness with age.
Notorious bacteria the likes of staphylococcus aureus and escherichia coli are other contributors. Research suggests that up to 40% of chronic lower back pain can be caused by dangerous bacteria. These particular two tend to attack the lumbar region.
Related: How to Protect Your Spine in Your Daily Life Activities
Symptoms of Lower Back Pain
Lower back spasms are accompanied by different symptoms other than the obvious pain in this region. A quick disclaimer though, some of these symptoms may require further testing to identify the root cause as they could be related to other conditions.
That said here are some common symptoms:
- A burning sensation around the spine.
- Weakness and numbness or tingling in one or both legs
- Pain needles when you twist, bend, lift, or even walk.
- Sudden and unexplainable weight loss
- Bowel and bladder problems.
Diagnosing Lower Back Pain
The most reliable way to diagnose back problems is by running tests and imaging. This is especially true when the pain doesn’t seem to improve. It could be an indicator that something much more serious is going on. Your doctor may prescribe either one of these tests depending on the symptoms recorded and medical history.
- A Bone Scan – if your doctor suspects the issue to be related to the strength of your bones.
- CT Scan – detects complex bone fractures.
- MRI – for detailed imaging.
- X-Ray – common for checking broken bones through black and white imaging.
- Blood Tests in the Case of Infections.
- An Ultrasound – useful for examining internal organs.
- Nerve Studies
A lot of these diagnosis methods follow when home remedies do not register any improvement. Otherwise, your physician may send you home on a prescription of pain killers.
How to Treat the Lower Back Pain
As mentioned earlier, back pain comes in different intensities and a good number of these injuries can be resolved without evasive procedures. We’ll break down the available treatment options into two categories – home remedies and advanced remedies.
Word of caution, it’s safer to seek medical advice before self-medicating. Have your doctor examine you or do a brief checkup to determine what treatment works better. Some people hold out on clinic visits trying to resolve the issue on their own only to show up when it’s too late.
Simple Home Treatments
- Over the counter pain relievers
- Hot water and cold-water bottles
- Muscle relaxants
- Periodic rest and sleep (on a firm surface).
- Physical therapy like massage, stretching, and strengthening exercises.
Note, even with rest, back spasms are often resolved effectively by keeping your spine mobile. Lying on your back may attract temporal relief and this is better than sitting, however, too much dormancy is counterproductive. Your goal should be to stay active.
Yoga positions that engage your core, abdomen, and back are a great start. Only consult with your physician about how much lower back exercises are allowed and how often. You also do not want to overindulge and worsen things with your lower back muscles.
As for the heat and ice, both are applicable, however, only in the right order. With a fresh injury, start with an ice pack over the next 24-48 hours. During this period repeat the procedure as many times as necessary to bring down inflammation and sensitivity. Two days after this and if the pain still persists, introduce heat. Avoid direct contact with the skin and instead wrap your bottle in a towel first.
Advanced Treatment Plans
- Acupuncture – This involves the thin needle treatment, in your back area, that helps reduce pain and promotes sleep.
- Epidural steroid injections – This involves injecting steroids and a local anesthetic directly into the epidural space, around the spine. It helps reduce any inflammations and control pain around this area. This method is usually recommended after all physical exercises and remedies have failed and before surgery is advised.
- Surgery – There are different surgery options both major and minor and your doctor will advise on the most effective. Some of the common procedures include a discectomy, spinal fusion, spinal decompression, etc. With good physical therapy, recovery should not be a problem.
Lower back pain in your lower back muscles can start mild and progress to severe levels if not treated early. Lower back exercises can help but keep an eye out for the above-mentioned symptoms and be sure to visit a doctor in case of any alarming concerns. If you can altogether prevent back spasms, the better.