lower back pain

Lower Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Back pain is a common occurrence among Americans. It’s one of the leading causes of doctor visits and missed work among adults. Although common, back pain is experienced differently in each patient, and many possible causes can make it difficult to diagnose.

While back pain can be anywhere from mild to severe, it is usually treatable. Whether you choose to treat your symptoms at home or schedule an appointment with one of our providers, there are treatment options for everyone, no matter the cause.

Symptoms

Lower back pain symptoms may occur in any part of your back and even your legs. Aside from physical pain, acute low back pain symptoms may include:

  • Decreased range of motion 
  • Pain when standing or worse when sitting
  • Pain that shoots through the leg or radiates in the buttocks, legs, and feet
  • Stiffness and aching in the back or neck 
  • Pain when lifting objects
  • The inability to stand up straight without constant pain

When to See a Doctor

Back pain can be a recurring nuisance; however, you may need to see a doctor if you experience any of these signs. They may signal a serious condition that requires immediate diagnosis and treatment. See your doctor immediately if you experience the following.

  • Back pain that does not resolve or improve 4 to 6 weeks from onset.
  • Your pain results from a traumatic incident such as a car accident, physical fight, or fall.
  • If a fever is present
  • If you are experiencing incontinence or any bowel changes
  • Pain, including tingling, weakness, and numbness in the back or legs, may indicate nerve damage that needs to be treated.
  • Back pain that is accompanied by unexplained or rapid weight loss.
  • Abdomen pain
  • Severe, debilitating back pain
  • Back pain that does not improve with rest
  • Abnormal fatigue

Causes

The most common cause of lower back pain is muscle strains and ligament sprains. These may occur due to sports, poor posture, and lifting improperly but can occur in other ways too. While they can be incredibly painful, they are usually not long-lasting injuries.

There is a form of arthritis, which is another cause of back pain. Known as ankylosing spondylitis, this type of pain can cause stiffness in your spine. It usually begins in the lower back but, over time, can reach all the way to your neck.

Overuse is a common, non-threatening cause of lower back pain. Wear and tear may occur due to age or overexerting yourself. Sometimes, all it takes is raking the leaves in your yard for an hour to experience low back pain.

If you’ve taken a recent fall or been in an accident, you may experience back pain. Traumatic injuries are a common cause of pain. Sometimes, this can be due to spinal fractures or soft tissue injuries.

Another cause of back pain is osteoporosis. This involves the thinning of bone, which can lead to fractures as well.

Spinal stenosis involves bone spur growth along the spine and a narrowing of the spinal canal. Sometimes, spinal stenosis can develop due to osteoarthritis.

Unfortunately, degenerative disc disease is common too. Occurring when the discs between your vertebrae begin to break down, this condition can be quite painful, especially once your vertebrae begin to rub against one another.

Herniated discs, also known as a ruptured disc or bulging disc, can cause severe pain and, in some cases, no pain at all. This is when a disc pushes against a nerve and can mimic symptoms of sciatica.

Not all back pain causes have to do with the spine or your muscles. Conditions such as endometriosis, kidney stones, pregnancy, UTIs, and fibromyalgia can cause severe lower back pain. They occasionally occur without there being an issue with the back itself.

If a disc begins pressing on your sciatic nerve, sciatica may occur. This can cause pain and tingling that radiates into the hips, glutes, and through the legs.

Tumors, while much less common, can form along the spine. In the event your pain is caused by a tumor, it will likely need to be removed and checked for cancer as well.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis begins with a thorough review of the patient’s medical history. This can give us insight into possible causes of your pain. Be prepared to answer questions about your lifestyle habits, past injuries, and posture.

Next, you will be given a physical examination. Your reflexes may be tested as well as your range of motion. Imaging tests are standard when diagnosing back pain as well and usually are the next step.

You may be given an X-ray, MRI, CT, or undergo an injection study if deemed necessary. These tests can also tell us a lot and help us rule out what conditions you don’t have.

Treatment

Treatment options depend on the patient’s medical history and diagnosis. Since back pain is uniquely experienced patient to patient, a treatment that works for one may not work for the other. Remember that treatment does take time, and you may not experience instant pain relief, depending on your treatment plan.

Medications

Muscle relaxers, over-the-counter anti-inflammatories, pain medicines, and topical pain ointments are some of the most common medications used to treat back pain. Whether you choose to try OTC medicines or your doctor thinks a prescription would be more appropriate, you may find pain relief using medication.

Steroid shots

Cortisone steroid shots may be injected into the spine, muscles, or into targeted joints, depending on your condition. Injections may provide pain relief for several months as well because they are anti-inflammatory.

Stretching

Daily, gentle stretching of your muscles can provide relief and help you manage your symptoms. It’s essential to stretch your back, as well as your hips, legs, and glutes, for the best results.

Massage

Soft tissue massage for lower back pain can improve blood circulation, which helps the healing process and helps loosen tense muscles. Relieving tension in the back can work wonders.

Acupuncture

Acupuncture may not be the best treatment route for anyone who grows faint at the sight of needles. However, it can be a great help to some patients. Targeted points in the body receive acupuncture and are stimulated in the process, relieving pain.

Ice and heat

The first two days after hurting your back, use ice. Ice is typically the most appropriate to use because it reduces swelling and pain. After the first 2-3 days have passed, switch to heat. Heat is excellent if you need to loosen tense muscles.

Physical therapy

PT can be a great help to patients suffering from any type of pain. Physical therapists may use TENS for pain relief, help you strengthen your core, increase your range of motion, and more. Heat and ice may also be used during physical therapy sessions. Spinal manipulation may be recommended, as well.

Bed rest for a short period of time

Resting for a short term may help ease some of your back pain. However, it’s vital not to rest for too long. Otherwise, your pain may worsen. People who go about their daily activities and movement usually recover quicker, as well.

Low impact movement

Yoga, walking, and swimming are some great low impact movements and exercises that can alleviate back pain. While bed rest is not optimal for long periods, be gentle with yourself as you ease back into physical activity. It may take a while to strengthen your body for long term relief. Avoid heavy lifting as you recover.

Quit smoking

In addition to not smoking, quit using tobacco products altogether. Tobacco can damage the discs and joints in your back, impair your healing, and restrict blood flow.

Surgery

Surgical measures may be taken as a last resort for many patients and doctors. There are so many treatment options to exhaust before turning to surgery.

Many people believe that it is a quick fix, but often, it is not. There are some conditions where it is necessary. Our doctors can recommend it if they think it would benefit your condition and quality of life.

Prevention

Sometimes, we do all we can and still experience back pain. No back pain prevention method is guaranteed to work for every person. However, these prevention tips are worth a shot for anyone who experiences frequent back pain and wants to get ahead in the fight.

Take the time to monitor and correct your posture. Whether you’re on your feet frequently or sit at a desk for 8 hours a day, check in with your body every hour.

If you’re slumping or jutting your neck and head forward for long periods, you may pay for it later. If you squat frequently or repeat motions, make sure you use the proper form to prevent back pain and injury. Never lift with your back; lift with your legs instead.

Keep your weight in check. Excess weight can put significant strain on your body, including your back. Sometimes, low back pain is due to this type of strain.

Regular exercise and a healthy diet can help mitigate this issue. If you are unsure of what is a healthy weight for your height, schedule an appointment to see your doctor.

Exercise regularly. Movement can be a big help to a back pain sufferer. Remaining sedentary can actually make your symptoms worse. Taking a walk or going swimming are low impact exercises that can significantly impact your overall health.

Alleviate your back pain by wearing the proper shoes. High heels and sandals can cause back pain because they are unsupportive shoes. Try wearing supportive sneakers and footwear when you can. Wearing high heels seven days a week for extended periods will not do your back any favors.

Replace your mattress and change your sleep position. We spend aboutof our lives sleeping. It makes sense that our mattress and the way we sleep can significantly impact our bodies.

If you can, avoid sleeping on your stomach. Sleep on your back or side instead. Choose a mattress that is more firm as well, and replace your mattress every 6-8 years.

If you need treatment for lower back pain, call our office. Our specialists are experienced with treating and diagnosing back pain conditions and are ready to help any way they can. You don’t have to live life in constant pain and fear of tomorrow. Take a step towards a better future and schedule an appointment with us today.

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