Lower Back Pain: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

The number of people that suffer from chronic or acute lower back pain is simply astonishing – approximately 50% of adults have developed some degree of chronic back pain by the time they are 60 years of age.

However, whether you fall into this 50% or not, chances are you have experienced short-term lower back pain complications, owing to the fact that there are several possible causes of the pain.

It is important to realize that lower back pain is not a disease or disorder by itself, but rather a symptom of an underlying condition.

Known medically as lumbago, lower back pain can result owing to one or more of the following:

  • Damage or inflammation of the muscles of the lower back
  • Spinal compression or inflammation of the nerves of the spine
  • Damage to the vertebrae that make up the spine (these are the actual bony structures found on the spine)
  • Ligament damage or inflammation to the structures that innervate the lower back region.
  • Rarely, owing to a medical condition affecting organ systems, such as the back pain associated with kidney stones.

Common Causes Of Lower Back Pain

Lower Back Pain Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Muscle Strain

Muscle strain is one of the most common causes of lower back pain, owing to inadvertently bending the wrong way and picking up a heavy object, or bad posture. In like manner, sudden jerky movements can also cause strains, as would overexertion during exercise.

Muscle strains that cause lower back pain are more common in persons that are usually sedentary and suddenly get involved in a sport discipline.

Structural Conditions

Conditions such as spina bifida, scoliosis or kyphosis all place the spine under abnormal stress that is likely to be worsened with torsion.

In like manner, damage to the vertebrae or disks (disks being tissue that cushion each vertebrae) are another common cause of back pain, leading to compression of the nerves and pain. Sciatica is a common complication of a bulging or herniated disk that causes lower back pain which may radiate down the legs as well.

Other structural conditions that may precipitate lower back pain may include osteoporosis, which makes vertebrae structurally weaker and likely to fracture altogether.

Associated Lower Back Pain Symptoms

Even though lower back pain is itself a symptom, it usually isn’t isolated but rather occurs along with several other accessories symptoms. These may include:

An Acute Stabbing Pain 

This acute stabbing pain usually radiates straight from down the leg and it’s usually indicative of nerve compression, including the sciatic nerve. A bulging disk is a likely culprit here, warranting a visit to your physician.

Decreased Mobility

Many persons with lower back pain tend to ignore the acute symptoms until it becomes chronic, affecting mobility over time. It is not uncommon to experience a decreased range of motion upon bending, standing upright or twisting to the sides.

Back Pain Without Support

If your experience lower to mid back pain when unable to have a seated back support, chances are muscle or ligament support may be weak. The best way to remedy this while it is not serious is to actively perform resistance exercise that strengthens these areas.

Serious Associated Symptoms

While these are rare, if any of these symptoms manifest along with lower back pain it is very important for you to seek immediate medical advice:

  • A fever that develops along with the back pain
  • Abdominal pain that radiates through the back
  • Inability to hold your bladder or bowel contents
  • Constant, unabating pain that does not ease even following the use of a painkiller
  • Loss of sensation or weakness in the legs

Diagnosis Of Lower Back Pain

It is very important for your physician to undertake a complete workup when trying to come to a specific diagnosis regarding your lower back pain, or you may inadvertently fall victim to relying on painkillers for long-term management.

In general, your physician will first assess your tolerance with walking, standing, pain free sitting and if you are able to lift your legs. Self assigning pain ratings is also common, along with reporting of spasms or when you notice episodes are triggered more often.

In addition to this, your doctor may perform more specific procedures such as:

X-rays– these help to show the structural alignment of your vertebrae and can help diagnose inflammatory arthritic disease, or if it is owing to a herniated disc.

MRI or CT scans– these help to give a clearer picture of the bones, and associated structure of tissue such as muscle, tendons, nerves to name a few. Structural abnormalities to soft tissue is more accurately diagnosed via this method.

Blood workups– help to identify elevated markers of inflammation, or if an infection could be actively contributing to symptoms.

Bone scans– bone scans are usually performed if osteoporosis has been pre-diagnosed, as it can help to identify disorders related to the disease.

Nerve studies– helps to analyze if nerves are properly receiving electrical impulses and can help to rule out or identify herniated discs.

Treatment Of Lower Back Pain

Often times, especially if you are younger, lower back pain is self-limiting and will resolve itself in a few days to weeks without the need for intervention. However, if this doesn’t help or symptoms don’t improve within this time, treatment modalities may be investigated. These may include:

Painkillers

Either over the counter painkillers, or prescription medicines that decrease inflammation or the body’s pain tolerance. These are not without side effects, so under no circumstances should you extend the prescribed usage duration.

Exercise

Sometimes simple strengthening of the muscles and supporting tissue of the lower back can help to alleviate pain, especially if due to a sedentary lifestyle. Physiotherapy may also be applied in the same vein, along with core strengthening movements.

Improving your posture can go far way in reducing back pain as well and keep it from reoccurring.

Surgery

Most of the persons that stand to benefit from surgery are those that have spinal compression due to herniated discs. Other conditions that may warrant surgery include spinal stenosis, or implantation of a support to overcome a spinal deformity.

Rest

Lower back pain that is thought to be the result of overuse can often be resolved with active rest. This may mean staying in bed for a prolonged period of time under observation, allowing the supporting tissue to recover.

Risk Factors For Lower Back Pain

There are certain risk factors that raise your chance of experiencing lower back pain throughout your lifetime. These include:

Obesity

Higher body weight places greater strain on the spine and supporting muscles of the lower back.

Age

Natural breakdown of tissue as we age, whether it be bone, muscle, supporting tendons and ligaments and nerves themselves can all increase the likelihood of lower back pain.

Sedentary Lifestyle

Sitting for hours at a time places the back in an uncomfortable position and can change normal alignment of the spine.

High Intensity Activity

Persons that are elite athletes are more likely to experience injuries of the back especially owing to the fact that they need to keep bettering themselves.

Neuroendocrine Disorders

Hormones and neurotransmitters collectively may change perceived pain thresholds, which is why chronic pain is more likely to be diagnosed in persons with a history of depressive illness.

Conclusion

It is important that you adopt a healthy lifestyle now, given that you have not already developed chronic lower back pain, in order to mitigate your risk in the future. If you are a high-performance athlete, be sure to allow for sufficient recovery in between workouts, as too many professional careers are ended prematurely owing to the injury of the back.

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