Lower Back Pain

By Amanda Garland DPT, ATC

Lower Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common reasons people miss work or call a doctor. It is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Most of us will experience some type of back pain at one point in our lifetime!  Low back pain, also known as lumbago, refers to a pain or ache in the lower region of the back, think around the waistline, that can vary in intensity. Low back pain can be a result of an injury or incident such as lifting or bending incorrectly, or can be an ache that gradually progresses over time with no specific known cause.

Lower back pain can usually be treated conservatively.

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Common Causes of Lower Back Pain

There are many common conditions that can cause low back pain. A muscle strain or ligament sprain is a common occurrence in the low back due to improper technique with lifting or poor positioning with a sudden movement resulting in low back pain.

Another common cause may be disc pathology. There are discs in our backs that provide a cushion between our vertebrae. The disc can often shift and create a bulge or possibly even rupture. If the disc becomes affected, the result can be low back pain. Disc degeneration is very prevalent as we age. Many of us may have a disc pathology and will be asymptomatic for years.

Our spines are developed in such a way that the curves are designed to help us disperse forces from the ground up to avoid causing injury to our bodies. However, many people may develop abnormal curvatures, known as scoliosis. Scoliosis can be acquired over time due to aging and possible prolonged abnormal positioning, or it can be congenital. Abnormal stresses on the body due to these curvatures can create low back pain.

Then comes the term we are all use to as we age, arthritis. It seems only appropriate that we can get arthritis in our spine. As we age, we loose the cushion and space between the vertebrae in our back. This loss in cushion or space can lead to a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, which creates low back pain.

JOI Low Back Pain

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Signs and Symptoms of Low Back Pain

The symptoms one may experience with low back pain can vary from a dull ache to a sharp pain. The common symptoms of low back pain are:

  • Muscle ache.
  • Shooting or stabbing pain.
  • Pain that radiates down the leg.
  • Increasing pain with bending, lifting, standing or walking.
  • Decreasing pain with rest.

Most back pain will gradually improve with conservative management such as modalities, rest or modifying the activity. However, in the event you notice the following, seek medical care immediately:

  • Accompanied with bowel or bladder problems.
  • Accompanied by a fever.
  • Difficulty with breathing.
  • You had a fall that resulted in a blow to your back.

Many of us will do all we can to avoid calling the doctor and may try the wait and see approach. If you attempt self management techniques and notice the following, it may be time to call the doctor:

  • Pain becomes severe and does not change with rest or change in position.
  • It spreads down one or both legs, especially if it radiates past the knee.
  • It causes weakness, numbness or tingling in one or both legs.

Risk Factors

There are many risk factors that can increase your chance of developing this condition. Aging, lack of exercise, excessive weight and improper technique with lifting and daily activities all increase the possibility of developing back pain. Many of the above risk factors can be preventable by improving your physical condition and increasing your strength to stabilize and protect the spine.  Regular, low impact, exercise can benefit you in many ways, however one way is to help maintain your endurance to stabilize the spine with movements and daily activities. Strengthening your back and core muscles will help act like a corset and protect the spine when doing activities such as lifting or bending. Flexibility is important to include in our exercise regimen to help all the bones align correctly to avoid abnormal tension on the spine.

Knowledge is Power!

One of the most important things to help ourselves avoid back pain is knowing the correct way we should move. Knowing the proper technique with daily activities such as bending, lifting and twisting can save us a world full of hurt. If possible it is always nice if we can avoid heavy lifting, however we all find ourselves in a position where we cannot seem to wait to move that object. It is important to lift using your legs, they are much stronger than your back muscles! Keep your back straight when lifting and never twist with a weighted object in your hands. Always keep the object close to your body to avoid increasing strain on the spine. Never be afraid to ask for help if the object is heavy or awkward.

Many people may not realize that positioning is equally important when it comes to saving our backs. Always try and stand with an upright posture maintaining a neutral pelvic position. If you find yourself standing for a long period of time such as washing the dishes, consider using the cabinet to put a foot up and relieve back pain for a short period of time. Be careful to make sure you alternate feet.

One must also be aware of the way we sit to help protect our back.  Find a good supportive chair with  low back support, armrests and a swivel back. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but your recliner probably is not the best chair to prevent or decrease back pain. If the chair does not have a good lumbar support, consider rolling a towel and place it behind the small of the back. Change your position frequently whether sitting or standing. Our body likes to move!

You can do this!

Low back pain can vary from a dull, annoying ache to a debilitating condition that can cause you concern. Pain is the body’s way of telling us something is amiss and you should always listen to your body. Whether you attempt to rest and modify your activity or feel the need to call the doctor, this condition may slow you down. It is estimated that less than 5% of back pain patients are suitable for surgical intervention. It can effect people of all ages and most low back pain patients will recover, however if you feel you need some guidance in taking the correct steps to decrease pain and aid in your recovery, call your doctor or see a physical therapist. We are here to help!

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By: Amanda Garland DPT, ATC

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