It’s something every single one of us has had to (or will eventually) deal with at some point in our lives. There are historical references to it going back thousands of years. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all devoted part of their medical literature to healing this, sometimes terrible, pain
Lower back pain.
From that aching stiffness first thing in the morning to the debilitating agony of a slipped disk – low back pain can affect:
- Your quality of life
- Ability to work and play
- Your mood
If you’re dealing with low back pain and are wondering: What could be causing it? What can I do about it? When is it something serious? Then keep on reading and learn all about low back pain.
The spine is composed of twenty-four bones (vertebrae); the three types of vertebrae are: cervical (neck), Lumbar (back), and sacral (base of spine).
The vertebrae are separated by intervertebral discs.
These are soft, gel-like discs that prevent the vertebrae from rubbing against each other and also act as shock absorbers.
Intervertebral Discs have two components:
- A tough outer ring: the annulus
- A jelly-like interior: the nucleus pulposus
Causes of Low Back Pain
When the annulus is damaged, the soft interior can bulge out or even squirt into the surrounding area (a herniation) impinging local nerves and frequently resulting in excruciating pain.
If a herniation occurs between the L5 and S1 vertebrae – then the L5/S1 nerves that go into the sciatic nerve (a nerve that reaches from the lower back and down each leg) will become pinched, and you’ll feel very uncomfortable.
But, sometimes there’s another reason for pain.
In a normal spine, the nerves travel through your spinal canal and spread to the body through the bilateral foramen (small openings on each side).
If any of these openings in the spine become narrowed, the nerve can be pinched and compressed.
When the foramen between the L5/S1 (low back) vertebrae narrows, it will irritate the sciatic nerve, resulting in lower back pain and; tingling, cramps (anywhere along the leg), and numbness anywhere from lower back to the bottom of the foot.
The Muscles of the Lower Back
When the muscles or ligaments in the low back are strained or torn, the area around the muscles will typically become inflamed. This inflammation may lead to back spasm, and it is the back spasm that could cause both severe lower back pain and difficulty moving.
- Muscles: Are stretchy, fibrous tissue that’s critical for moving your body; they’re connected to the bones/joints by tendons
- Tendons: Cords of tough collagen tissue attaching the muscles to your bones making it possible for the muscles to move your bones and joints
- Ligaments: Are elastic/fibrous tissue connecting bones together. They stabilize the joints while you are still, and they help prevent excessive movement that can cause injury when you’re moving
Unfortunately, these structures are all prone to pulling, twisting or tearing, which will also cause low back pain.
6 Facts about Low Back Pain
- Low back pain is the leading cause of disability according to this 2010 article in The Lancet
- Backache is one of the most often given excuses for missing work, and it’s the 2nd most common reason people visit the doctor’s office
- Half of all working people admit to having back pain symptoms each year
- It’s estimated that up to eighty percent Americans will have back pain at some point in life
- Most low back pain is not caused by serious conditions like arthritis, infection, or fracture
- Americans spend at least $50 billion each year on back pain—and that’s just for the more easily identified costs
4 Symptoms that Mean You Should See a Doctor Right Away
1) Unexplained weight loss and Back Pain
If you’re experiencing weight loss without changes in your diet or activity levels and have back pain, you should ask a doctor to check for serious issues like cancer or a hormonal disorder.
2) Trauma and Low Back Pain
A severe trauma like being in a car accident or falling from a height or flight of stairs can result in a spinal fracture (‘broken’ back). If this occurred to you and you’re suffering pain – seek out care from your doctor or an emergency room.
3) Loss of control of your bowel or bladder and Back Pain
This can indicate that you have cauda equina syndrome (CES).
If you have lower back pain with sudden incontinence; you possibly have CES (a back condition creating severe pressure on the nerves) that will require emergency medical care to prevent serious nerve damage.
4) Back Pain accompanied by Fever
Back pain with fever could indicate that you have an infected kidney or infection is some other part of your back. Your physician will determine whether you’ll need a course of antibiotics and anything else you’ll need to do to get better.
How to Treat Your Back Pain
Bed rest used to be the number one recommendation for treating back pain in general and low back pain in particular.
This advice has fallen out of favor as research showed that the people who maintained their normal daily activities recuperated much more quickly and completely than those who didn’t.
Interestingly, the same study found that performing your normal, daily activities was also more effective than performing exercises intended to strengthen and stretch the affected area!
Hot and Cold
Anecdotal evidence suggests there are real benefits to alternating the use of ice and heating pads to relieve low back pain symptoms.
Can also go along way to make the pain your suffering more bearable – just make sure you follow the dosage advice on the package.
Taking regular strolls will keep the blood flowing into the injured area (which will speed healing) and relieve stiffness while performing an activity with very little chance of causing further damage.
As hard as it may be for anyone to accept; the best treatment for low back pain that isn’t the result of trauma or an underlying health issue – is time. Most instances of low back pain will resolve within a few weeks with little or no intervention other than avoiding any activities that exacerbate the symptoms.