Low Back Pain: Symptoms, Treatment, Home Care

Overview

Low back pain refers to pain in the lower back, which is a very common disorder. Nearly everyone will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. But the pain can range from mild to severe. With the condition, people often feel stiffness in the back, have restricted movements and have difficulty standing upright. In general, the condition can be both short-term and long-term. Short-term back pain may last a few days or a few weeks. But long-term back pain or chronic back pain can last longer than several months.

In most cases, low back pain develops because of injuries such as muscles sprains or strains. But it also may be caused by some diseases such as spinal cancer, arthritis, kidney infections, and others.

In the United States, more than 80% of Americans suffer from low back pain in their lifetime. More frequently, the condition is seen in people who are between the age of 30 and 50. Every year, there are millions of individuals affected by the condition. In America, back pain is also the most common cause of lost workdays.


Causes

In most situations, low back pain is due to muscle sprain or strain, muscle spasm, and intervertebral disc degeneration. Also, diseases such as spinal stenosis, spondylosis, developmental disorders, and tumors may also be the underlying reasons. Trauma and injuries may lead to low back pain as well.

Moreover, low back pain is more often seen in older people because of wear and tear changes. When the water content between the vertebrae in the spine reduces as people aging, the spine in the back is more easily to be injured.


Symptoms

Common signs and symptoms of low back pain may include the following:

  • Pain the lower back
  • Back pain at intervals
  • Pain in the buttock and outer hip area
  • Sciatica
  • Lingering pain that lasts days, weeks or even months
  • Unexpected weight loss
  • Bowel or bladder incontinence
  • Numbness in the affected area
  • Pins-and-needles feelings in the legs

Usually, for people with low back pain, their condition tends to become worse at night. Also, they may experience more severe pain bending over or trying to lift heavy objects. Sitting long periods of time and walking may worsen the situation too. In some cases, people with low back pain may have a fever too, which may indicate an abscess.


Diagnosis

At the outset, the doctor may perform a complete physical examination to locate the affected place. Also, the doctor will check the coordination, balance, motion range, reflexes, and sensations. This way, the doctor can give a primary diagnosis.

To confirm a diagnosis, the doctor may order some imaging tests. X-rays, CT scans, ultrasound, and MRI scans may be necessary for some situations. With detailed images of the bones and its surrounding tissues, the doctor can examine if there’s anything wrong with the spinal bones, discs and the ligaments and tendons in the back.


Treatment

Mainly, low back pain can be treated with medications, self-care methods, and surgery.

Medications

In some cases, low back pain may be really severe. Pain relievers such as aspirin or acetaminophen can be taken to help ease the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines like ibuprofen and naproxen may also be helpful to reduce pain and inflammation.

If the pain relievers do not work, people with severe low back pain may turn to the doctor and have some prescribed narcotic pain medications such as codeine and morphine.

Physical Therapy

To ease the pain, people with low back pain may receive physical therapy, which may include heat or ice packs, massage, and electrical stimulation. Also, proper exercise such as stretching, weight lifting, and cardiovascular exercises may also help to restore motion and strengthen the back muscles.

In some cases, the doctor may recommend bracing. A spinal brace can help people with low back pain to be more comfortable and be able to stand upright.

Self-Care at Home

Self-care method is usually only effective for the first 72 hours after the pain begins.

After low back pain starts, the patient should stop normal physical activities and get plenty of rest for a couple of days. By placing ice packs to the lower back, the patient can feel less the pain. After 48 to 72 hours, change the ice packs to heat packs so as to help the back muscles relax.

Also, to ease the pain, over-the-counter pain relievers may be taken. Taking a warm bath or a massage may also be helpful to ease the symptoms.

Surgical Treatment

Only in severe conditions will surgery be considered. If non-surgical treatment has proven to be ineffective and the patient is under tremendous pain, the doctor may recommend the patient to have surgery.

A surgical procedure called spinal fusion may be conducted in this situation. In this procedure, the doctor will fuse the painful spinal bones together. The surgery can reduce the pain, but it also will eliminate motion between vertebral segments. Moreover, the surgery may bring positive outcome and eliminate the pain. But in some cases, the pain may still linger. To fully recover from the surgery, the patient will need at least a year.

Besides spinal fusion, disc replacement surgery may also be an option. By replacing the affected disk with artificial parts, this surgery can also ease the pain.

Keywords: low back pain.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.