Lower back pain is one of the most common medical conditions. It is a universal human problem and almost everyone on this planet will experience it at some point. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), at least 80% of adults will have lower back pain at some point in their life. Also, lower back pain is the major cause of job-related disability.
Lower back pain usually develops because of a minor injury or overuse; such as strains due to unexpected movements. However, there are cases of people having lower back pain with no clear cause. Lower back pain may also be a symptom of certain diseases, including sciatica, spine infections, arthritis, spinal cord cancer, as well as herniated or ruptured disc. The lower back pain can appear gradually, sometimes even suddenly, and tends to last a few days or a few weeks. However, chronic cases can last longer than three months. Lower back pain is more common in people between thirty and fifty years old because the body is going through some changes. As you age, your body experiences a reduction in the fluid content between your vertebrae in the spine and you lose some muscle tone. These changes make the discs in the spine more irritable and your back more susceptible to injury.
The following are some of the most common causes of lower back pain and the best way to treat them.
Strains and Sprains
Strains and sprains are both the most common causes of lower back pain. A strain happens when your tendon is twisted, overstretched, or torn, while a sprain occurs when your ligament is overstretched, twisted, or torn. Back strains and sprains usually result from sports injuries, awkward twisting, overuse, or lifting something in an improper way or something too heavy for your strength. The symptoms of strains and sprains are:
- Pain (with tenderness if you have a strain)
- Limited movement around the affected area
With a strain, you may also experience muscle spasm or cramping and muscle weakness. The first step to treating the strain or sprain is to practice the four-step RICE method. It is a simple self-care technique to help with the pain, reduce swelling, and speed up healing. The RICE method includes:
- Rest: As soon as you are hurt, stop any physical activity, exercise, and avoid putting any weight on. Rest as much as possible at least for the first 2 days. If you do not rest, you can delay your recovery and make the damage even worse than it actually is. Having a good rest also helps you prevent any further bruising to your back.
- Ice: Ice can reduce any swelling and pain to your back. Apply an ice pack that is covered with a light towel for around 15 to 20 minutes every two to three hours for at least one to two days. If you do not have an ice pack, you can use a bag of frozen peas or corn.
- Compression: Wrap the injured area with an elastic medical bandage or trainer’s tape to help reduce swelling. Make sure it is snug but not too tight. If the area gets numb, blue, or the pain increases, loosen the wrap.
- Elevation: With this step, you need to raise the affected area above the level of your heart. This will reduce swelling, pain, and throbbing. Sometimes lying on your back will hurt, so you can lie on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between your legs. You can also lie on your back, but place a pillow beneath your thighs to reduce the pressure to your lower back.
You can also take over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen (Tylenol) to reduce pain and swelling. If your pain and swelling get worse, you will need to see a doctor.
Sciatica is the pain that radiates from the buttocks and down into your legs caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve. The pain you feel can range from mild to severe. Sciatica can be a symptom of certain medical conditions. However, a herniated (slipped) disk is the reason behind sciatica. The symptoms include numbness in your leg along the nerve and a tingling sensation in your feet and toes. The pain you feel may be aggravated when you sit down.
For acute sciatica, you can practice self-care measures, including:
- Exercises such as walking or light stretching
- Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen
- Hot or cold compression packs to reduce the pain.
However, if you have chronic sciatica, you need a combination of medical treatment and self-care measures, which include:
- Painkillers (Usually prescribed by your doctor)
- Physical therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
If your symptoms do not improve after all the treatments above are performed, your doctor may suggest you undergo surgery. Your surgery options include lumbar laminectomy and discectomy.
The discs on your back are very prone to injury, especially as you grow older. The disc can herniate or tear. A herniated or a slipped disc can occur when the cartilage that surrounds the disc thrusts against the nerve roots or the spinal cord. This makes the cushion located between your spinal vertebrae outspreads outside its usual position. The symptoms include:
- Pain extending from your arms or legs
- Pain and numbness
- Pain that increases with certain movements
- Muscle weakness
- Aching, tingling, and burning sensations in the injured area
Treatment for a herniated disc depends on the level of pain you experience and how far the disc has slipped. Most people can relieve the pain with an exercise program. You can also take over-the-counter pain relievers and avoid heavy lifting to relief the pain. However, you will need to stay active while you experience a slipped disc as inactivity can lead to joint stiffness and muscle weakness. If you do not get better after self-care measures and home remedies, make sure to make an appointment with your doctor.
Sometimes, lower back pain is a symptom of conditions that do not relate directly to the back, such as kidney stones, fibromyalgia, endometriosis, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and pregnancy. If you are pregnant and you experience lower back pain, here are some ways you can treat it:
- Adjusting your sleep position. Sleep on your side and keep one or both of your knees bent. You can also use a pregnancy or support pillows under your abdomen, behind your back, or between your bent knees.
- Practice good posture. Always remember to hold your chest high, stand up straight, and keep your shoulders relaxed.
- Physical activity. Regular physical activity can help relieve back pain and keep your back strong. Try gentle activities, such as walking or water exercise. However, make sure you consult with your healthcare provider beforehand.