The lumbar spine or low back is a structure that connects bones, nerves, joints, ligaments, and muscles to provide strength and support to the upper body. Unfortunately, it’s also a part that’s susceptible to injury and pain. Most low back pain results from damages to this area.
This pain incorporates an extensive range of symptoms. Their intensity varies from just mild and annoying to severe and debilitating. Lower back pain can start suddenly or gradually get worse over time. Some common symptoms that people experience from this condition are:
- Dull or achy low back pain
- Stinging pain that travels from the low back to the thigh’s back or feet
- Low back muscle spasms and tightness
- Pain that worsens due to prolonged standing or sitting
- Difficulty walking, standing straight, or switching positions
Doctors also describe these symptoms according to how they started and their duration. The most common description is acute pain, which is sudden and lasts for a couple of days or weeks. It results from a standard response to tissue damage and often subsides as the body heals.
What Are Some Typical Causes of Lower Back Pain?
The most common cause of lower back pain is muscle strains and ligament sprains. These often occur suddenly or develop over time from repetitive movements. Strains happen when the muscle stretches too far and tears, damaging itself. Sprains occur in the same manner, but they affect ligaments.
It doesn’t matter whether the lower back pain is due to a sprain or strain, as their treatments and symptoms are the same. Some common causes of them include: lifting heavy objects, sudden movements that stress the lower back area, sports injuries, and poor posture over time. Although they aren’t as severe and long-lasting, the pain they cause can be relentless.
However, if the lower back pain lasts over three months, it’s categorized as chronic back pain. This condition is more severe and often doesn’t answer to initial treatments. Here are the common causes of it:
Lumbar herniated disc. It’s a condition that occurs when a spinal disc’s soft center pushes through a crack present in the exterior shell. Occasionally, they cause no symptoms, but they often aggravate the surrounding nerves and cause pain, numbness, or weakness. It doesn’t always require intervention, but it may need physical therapy or surgery in some cases.
Lumbar spondylosis. It’s a term for the spinal disc’s wear and tear related to age. This condition is common and worsens as the person grows older. Some people don’t present symptoms and don’t require treatment, while others present a more complex case that may lead to injections, therapy, or surgery. It can cause degenerative disc disease and spinal osteoarthritis.
Spondylolisthesis. This condition is a spinal disorder in which a vertebra slips onto the one below it. Although genetics can play a part, typical risk factors include activities and sports that stress the lower back, including football and gymnastics. Severe cases may require surgery.
Other causes of chronic lower back pain are sacroiliac joint dysfunction, spinal stenosis, compression fractures, and trauma.
Typical Early Treatment Procedures for Lower Back Pain Relief
People can apply these treatment procedures at home to help manage acute pain from muscle strains or lumbar sprains. They occasionally help mitigate the effects of chronic lower back pain as well. These methods are easy to adjust and include:
Short rests. In many cases, lower back pain can quickly improve by avoiding strenuous activities. People should rest for a few days, but not more than that as it may complicate the recovery.
Change activities. Instead of resting, people can go on about their days while avoiding any activity or position that can aggravate the pain. For example, if sitting for long periods worsens the lower back pain, set timers to get up every half hour to stretch, walk for a bit, or do some exercises. Should standing make it worse, do the opposite.
Heat or ice therapy. Using an electric heating pad, taking a warm bath, or applying adhesive heat wraps can improve blood flow and relax tense muscles. On the other hand, ice packs can reduce swelling.
Pain medications. Ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin are over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medicines that ease low back pain if swollen muscles or nerves cause it. People can use acetaminophen to treat mild to moderate pain as well.
These treatments don’t require guidance from a doctor, but people should still use them carefully as any medication has possible risks and side effects.
These medical treatments can reduce pain, but they don’t affect the source of it. Doctors often prescribe these non-surgical treatments alongside physical therapy programs or any other beneficial activity.
Muscle relaxants. These can reduce muscle spasms and pain while making other treatment procedures more effective. However, they aren’t helpful for chronic lower back pain cases.
Epidural steroid injections. It involves a series of injections to the epidural space surrounding the spinal cord. Epidurals reduce nerve pain and inflammation and limit the intake of oral medications.
There are a couple of alternative treatments that might help as well, including acupuncture and massage therapy.
Treatment for Chronic Lower Back Pain
When the lower back pain is so severe that it doesn’t improve after almost three months of non-surgical treatments, doctors might recommend surgery. Regardless, the decision to have one rests on the person with back pain. It’s only in rare instances that immediate surgery is required.
Lumbar spinal fusion. A fusion surgery removes soft tissues between two or more adjacent vertebral bones to replace them with bone or metal. It lets the bone grow over six months to a year and fuses into one, stabilizing and eliminating motion between spinal segments. Nowadays, a modern technique involving spondylolisthesis surgery implants helps people preserve their motion and stability better. It’s also applicable to other spinal conditions such as degenerative disc disease and spinal stenosis.
Decompression surgeries. It’s a standard surgical procedure that alleviates lower back pain by removing the element that’s pressing on the spinal column’s nerve root. This item might be a herniated disc portion or a bone spur.
These aren’t the only surgical options. Others exist or are in development trying to use current technologies such as stem cells, robotics, and nanotechnology.
The Bottom Line
Lower back pain can be either a temporal condition or a chronic and debilitating one. People can take many preemptive actions to help improve the ailment, such as adequately resting, changing activities to include more exercises and stretches, and taking pain medications.
However, some severe cases aren’t so simple to manage. Occasionally, these require epidural injections or even surgery. People should consult with their doctor to figure out what the best procedure is in those situations.