Lower Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
What is Lower Back Pain?
Low back pain (lumbago) is very common and is usually caused by issues with the musculoskeletal system in the region. Included in the musculoskeletal system are muscles, fascia, compressed nerves, bone or joint disorders. The pain may range from a dull ache that may come and go to a pain that is very sharp and constant. Low back pain may also be considered acute (happened recently) or chronic (has been around for some time).
What Causes Low Back Pain?
Several things can be the cause for low back pain. Often, it is a combination of things that lead to the problem.
The majority of low back pain issues stem from some postural or movement issue. Often people lift things from a low position by bending their backs instead of bending at the knees. The addition of twisting to the low back while lifting this way increases the risks of injury. Other physical causes of low back pain may include:
- Lack of exercise
- Poor sitting or standing posture
- Weak back and abdomen muscles
- Poor sleep habits
The most common causes of low back pain are muscle strains or ligament sprains. Strains and sprains in the low back typically lead to spasms and pain that is worse when trying to stand upright and is relieved by sitting or rest. Other causes include:
- Herniated disk
- Nerve root compression
- Vertebral compression fracture
- Spinal stenosis
What are the Symptoms of Low Back Pain?
Symptoms of low back pain can vary between individuals. It may be as minimal as a mild nuisance to some or it could be debilitating to others. This extreme variation in symptoms can be from the different physical triggers of low back pain or a persons’ tolerance to pain.
Back pain is usually referred to as local or radiating. Local low back pain is the most common and it is specific to an area of the low back. Local pain can be on one side of the low back or both sides. Radiating pain will travel from the low back down the buttocks and into the leg or sometimes into the foot. Radiating type low back pain is typically only on one side. Radiating pain is often caused by a spinal nerve compression.
Low back pain can be referred from other organs (similar to arm or mid-back pain for heart attacks). Often low back pain is associated with gynecological issues, aortic artery disorders, kidney (kidney stones), bladder (infections) or prostate problems.
How to Prevent Low Back Pain?
Exercise and stretching are a few things that can be done to help prevent low back pain and they can be very effective. Exercise helps us to maintain a healthy weight and it works the muscles around the spine to strengthen them. Walking and swimming are examples of simple exercises that can benefit the whole body. Exercise also helps increase bone density, which strengthens the bones of the spine. Stretching helps the muscles relax and to maintain blood flow and hydration to the tissue. Stretching in the form of yoga has double benefits as it accomplishes both exercise and stretching activities.
A good ergonomic posture is helpful to prevent low back pain from developing or coming back if you have experienced it before by reducing stress placed on the body. Some helpful steps include:
- Avoid slouching while standing or sitting
- Adjust your workstation to fit your needs
- Avoid long periods of sitting and standing
- Use lumbar supports if sitting for long periods at work on in the car
- Change positions frequently
- Learn to lift correctly (we should do a video on proper lifting technique)
Low Back Pain Prevention Pathway
How is Low Back Pain treated?
Treatment for low back pain depends on the cause and can range from conservative at-home care to surgery. In minor cases with soft tissue injury exercise and soft tissue therapy along with pain relievers may be best treatment. In cases of fracture or nerve impingement surgery may be necessary to correct the issue.
The True Costs of Low Back Pain?
- To You: direct costs of maximizing insurance deductibles and out of pocket max plus the costs of reduced quality of life, lost productivity due to time away from work, and potential disability.
- To Employers: direct costs of over $6000 per case plus the cost of quality, lost productivity, absenteeism, and turnover.
- To the U.S. Economy: direct care costs over $70 billion every year plus the costs of lost productivity and disability.
How Common is Low Back Pain?
FAQs About Low Back Pain
Overall, in the US it is estimated that low back pain costs approximately $30 billion every year. It is difficult to have exact numbers since low back pain includes several other diagnosis, but an average cost of over $6000 is fairly typical.
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