Lower Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Exercises, Treatment & Diagnosis

Lower Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Exercises, Treatment & Diagnosis


Lower back pain is a common medical condition affecting the nerves, muscles, and bones of the lower back. The pain may be chronic (lasting for 12 weeks or more), sub-chronic (lasting 6 or 12 weeks), or acute (lasting 5 weeks or less). The pain can be dull and constant or sharp and sudden.

Lower Back Pain Causes

What are the more common lower back pain causes? Some cases of lower back pain may be attributed to osteoarthritis, degeneration of the spinal column, osteoporosis, or, in very rare cases, spinal tumor or infection. These cases are not common, though. The most common type of lower back pain is classified as nonspecific pain. The pain cannot be attributed to any specific disease or problem. Rather, it is usually diagnosed as a consequence of common skeletal or muscle issues. It can result from over-stretching or spraining a muscle or ligament. It can be a result of small problems in any tissue or structure of the lower back. Your doctor may be hard-pressed to identify the exact cause of the pain. Contributing factors to lower back pain include age, genetics, poor posture, stress, smoking, occupational risk factors, obesity, sudden weight gain, and poor physical condition.


Lower Back Pain Symptoms

Symptoms are frequently characterized by severe or dull and constant pain. They are usually triggered when you engage in strenuous physical activity, lift a heavy object, or do anything with abrupt and sudden motions. The pain can be so severe that you find it difficult to stand or walk.  It can be accompanied by mild or severe muscle spasm. It can affect your upper thigh, buttocks, or groin. Your back feels tender and sore.


Lower Back Pain Treatment

Treatment depends on your history, as well as on the type and the degree of pain. Back pain usually gets better within a month and a half using non-invasive treatments. If the pain continues or worsens even after treatment, your doctor may recommend diagnostic procedures, and sometimes, surgery.


Conventional treatments include the following:

  • Rest

You may have to stop any strenuous activity if the pain becomes really bad. You may need to rest for a couple of days to allow the injured tissues or nerves to heal. When you have recovered, your doctor is likely to recommend regular exercise for building strength and flexibility.


  • Keeping active

When the pain is manageable, it is better to move around and keep active. You may find it a bit difficult to do so, especially during the first few days after your rest. Accept the discomfort. As long as you are not doing anything that gives you a lot of pain, keeping active is good. You may have to start slow and set new goals when you notice a decrease in the pain.


If you are employed, report back for work as soon as you can. Do not nurse the pain. Do not wait for it to completely disappear. Working may provide pain relief. It is good to go back to a regular pattern or schedule of activities. It will take your mind off the pain.


  • Comfortable Sleep Position

When you go to bed, look for a position that is natural and comfortable. It may help to put a small pillow under your thighs to help alleviate the pain at night. Make sure that your mattress provides adequate support for your back.


  • Medications

You can choose from many prescription and over-the-counter drugs to help ease lower back pain. Some drugs decrease swelling. Others inhibit pain signals from reaching your brain. Consult your doctor about the advantages, risks, and side effects related to the drugs before you take them.


You can use simple pain medication to alleviate the pain. Acetaminophen or paracetamol is usually the recommended first medication. You can take it at full strength (1000 mg) 3 or 4 times daily.


Also you have to try anti-inflammatory painkillers if they work better for you, or you can take ibuprofen, naproxen, or diclofenac. Do not take these drugs, though, if you have hypertension, asthma, heart condition, or kidney problems.


If simple pain medications do not work, you can try stronger painkillers or opioids for relief. Make sure that you take a lot of water and fruits and vegetables to avoid constipation, a common side effect of the drugs.


If the muscles in your back tend to tense up from the pain, this may make the pain worse. You can take diazepam, a muscle relaxant, for a few days. Limit your use of this drug, though. It can be habit-forming.


If the unrelenting back pain significantly affects your mood, you may try antidepressants or seek counseling.


  • Cold and Heat Therapy

The use of a hot compress or an ice pack is usually recommended to reduce inflammation.  You may use both alternately.


  • Exercise

A lower back pain treatment strategy always includes an exercise regimen. Physical exercise is considered essential for alleviating back pain and rehabilitating the spine.


Lower Back Pain Exercises

Lower back pain exercises should include low impact aerobic conditioning in the form of walking, biking, or swimming, stretches, and strengthening exercises. These three components aim to build a stronger and suppler spine.


An effective back strengthening exercise program should be comprehensive, gradual, controlled, and progressive. A regular exercise routine will help you become healthy, strong, and flexible. It will help reduce the recurrence of the pain. It will also help minimize the degree and duration of the pain should it recur.


Your exercise rehabilitation program will depend on your diagnosis and severity of pain. A spine specialist can help you develop a program customized to meet your requirements. He will also teach you how to execute the exercises using the right form and technique.


Lower Back Pain Diagnosis

Diagnosis will take into account any history of the condition, as well as the circumstances surrounding your present lower back pain. Your doctor will ask you to describe the pain. Where is its exact location? What kind of pain do you feel? Is the pain sharp or dull and throbbing? How painful is it? When did you start to feel the pain? Can you find some relief for the pain in certain positions or activities? Are there positions or activities which make the pain worse?


When the pain is intense and fails to respond to the usual treatments, your doctor may recommend the use of other diagnostic tools to help determine further interventions. An x-ray gives more substantial information about the state of your spine. It shows your spinal stability, as well as indicates the presence of fractures or tumors in the area. A C.T. scan gives cross-section images of the spinal discs and the vertebrae. It helps check for stenosis of the spine or herniated disc. A myelogram helps to identify problems within the nerve roots, spinal cord, and spine. An MRI scan helps to evaluate problems in nerve roots and lumbar discs. It also helps to rule out spinal tumors or infections as possible causes of your lower back pain.


Lower back pain is usually caused by joint or muscle problems and other similar mechanical issues. In most cases, your doctor may not be able to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. Even without this precise data, however, he can still prescribe an effective program for relief.


He will prescribe further testing if the pain persists or becomes worse even with the recommended treatment. He will also do so if the so called “red flags” – high fever, sudden and unexplained weight loss, or worrisome problems with movement or sensation — accompany the pain.


Lower Back Pain Relief

You can do several things to ensure lower back pain relief.

  • Make it a point to stretch and warm up your muscles before you engage in strenuous physical exercise or other demanding activities.


  • Stand or sit with your back held straight. Do not slouch. You help support your back by reducing curvature.


  • Work on surfaces that are of a comfortable height.


  • Choose chairs which provide adequate support for your back. Make sure that they provide the proper height for the task that you are doing. To prevent lower back stress, try to switch your position every now and then.


  • Occasionally take a break from your desk by walking around and stretching your muscles. If you have to remain seated for a long period, keep your feet elevated by using a stack of books or a low stool for support.


  • Make sure that your shoes are low-heeled and comfortable.


  • When you sleep, opt for a natural comfortable position. Draw your knees up to reduce the spine’s curvature. The prescribed fetal position helps to reduce pressure on the spine by opening up the joints.


  • Stay away from lifting objects that are exceedingly heavy. Remember to maintain the right position when lifting objects. Bend your knees. Contract your abdominal muscles. Lift with your upper arms, allowing your core – and not your back — to carry the weight. Keep the object that you are lifting close to your body.


  • Avoid excessive and sudden weight gain. When you are heavy, you tend to tax the muscles in your lower back.


  • Eat well. Make sure that your diet includes Vitamin D, phosphorus, and calcium to promote healthy bones.


  • Stop smoking. The habit lessens the flow of blood to your lower spine, contributing to the degeneration of the spinal disc. It also promotes osteoporosis and slows down healing.


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