Lower Back Pain Types, Causes, and Treatments
Identify the Cause of Your Pain
Lower back pain can be due to an underlying disorder or various other factors. Determining the cause of back pain is important before you start treatment.
The majority of lower back problems are due to improper posture. The way we sit, stand, or carry ourselves can make a big difference in spinal structure as we age. However, in many cases, an underlying medical problem that has not been diagnosed can be the reason for pain, and muscle tear and joint strain are also common culprits.
Intervertebral disc damage can also lead to different types of lower back pain. In case of damaged discs, a simple straight-leg raise test could help identify the cause and extent of damage, especially when accompanied by diagnostic imaging such as an MRI. Keep in mind that diagnostic imaging or laboratory testing for lower back pain is not necessary if the pain is not persistent or chronic.
The extent of lower back pain is classified by duration of pain. Acute pain lasts less than 6 weeks, sub-chronic pain lasts around 6 to 12 weeks, and chronic lower back pain lasts for over a year or indefinitely. The type of pain in the lower back can range from a tingling sensation to a constant ache that comes and goes.
Types of Lower Back Pain
Different signs and symptoms help identify and classify the kind lower back pain you have. When diffused pain does not change as a response to particular movements and is restricted to the lower back without radiating below the buttocks, it is classified as nonspecific pain.
Pain that changes in severity due to certain maneuvers; radiates below the buttocks, down to the leg, and below the knee; is persistently found to be on one side because of a herniated disc; or occurs on both sides due to spinal stenosis is classified as radicular pain.
Pain that occurs alongside red flags such as fever, a history of cancer, muscle weakness, and trauma indicates a serious condition or an underlying problem, and it is classified as needing urgent or specialized attention.
Individuals with lower back pain may complain about shooting pain, tingling pain, recurring pain, acute pain, or chronic pain. This pain is classified into three types:
1. Mechanical Back Pain
This type of pain includes musculoskeletal strains, degenerative discs, broken vertebrae, herniated discs, joint diseases, compressed nerve roots, compression fractures, spinal stenosis, osteoarthritis, muscle spasms, or muscle strains.
2. Non-Mechanical Back Pain
This type includes inflammatory conditions such as spondyloarthritis; inflammatory bowel disease; tumors; and HLA B27-associated arthritides, including reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis.
3. Referred Pain
This type of pain is associated with internal organs, such as kidney stones; gallbladder disease; aortic aneurysms; lungs, breast, and kidney infections; thyroid problems; and prostate issues, among others.
Professions at Heightened Risk of Back Injuries
Call center agents
Carpet and floor installers
Common back injuries such as strains, sprains, ligament damage, and ligament tear result from activities that involve moving heavy objects or heavy lifting. At times, such activities may lead to disc injury, a herniated disc, or a rupture.
When a herniated disc causes irritation to the sciatic nerve, it causes pain stemming from the lower back down to the leg. This condition is referred to as sciatica. When the sacral nerve root or lumbar nerve root is pressed down or pinched due to a slipped disc (spinal disc herniation), it can cause excruciating pain in the lower back.
Some Activities Can Cause Back Pain
Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of underlying problems that may vary in levels of gravity. Although the specific cause of low back pain is never clear, the majority of cases of lower back pain occur due to:
Twisting the trunk
A poor sleeping position
Heavy physical work
Weight gain during pregnancy
Sub-chronic or chronic lower back pain may occur due to:
- Disc degeneration
- Broken vertebrae
- Spinal disc herniation
How to Help Your Pain Subside
Back pain can have a negative effect on your quality of life. Here are some steps you can take to help minimize and heal your pain.
The best way to get rid of back pain is to exercise. There is no substitute for this. Doing simple lower back exercises and stretches will help a great deal in strengthening your back and preventing pain. When you improve your strength and flexibility, you minimize your chance of injury. Exercising makes muscles firm and greatly reduces the occurrence muscle pull, sprain, and strain. Here’s are some back strengthening exercises you can do daily for 20 minutes on a yoga mat:
Press-up back extensions
Deep abdominal strengthening
2. Use a Firm Mattress
If you have lower back pain, you should be sleeping on a thin, hard mattress instead of on a soft-foam mattress. Sleeping on a firm mattress encourages good sleeping posture and helps sore muscles relax while sleeping. Lying or sleeping on a hard mattress or a hard surface supports the back well. Use a thin and hard pillow instead of a soft pillow.
3. Wear a Brace/Belt
There are different types of braces and belts available for the back that will give you support. Although wearing one will not reduce pain, it will help you maintain a good posture and will make daily activities easier and less painful.
4. Get an Ayurvedic Massage
You can head to an ayurvedic center and opt for a relaxing back massage. Ayurvedic back massages have proven to be very beneficial for relaxing stressed muscles and sore joints. The traditional Kati Basti treatment is effective in treating sciatica and lower back pain.
The treatment increases blood circulation in the lower back area and relaxes the muscles, thereby providing pain relief, reducing stiffness, and improving movement. You can also opt for a full body massage called Abhyanga that helps relax sore muscles. Different medicated herbal oils are used in this massage process, and it is traditionally followed up with steam therapy. If you want to take herbal supplements for your back, always consult an Ayurvedic practitioner to discuss your back problem.
5. Make a Conscious Effort to Improve Your Posture
Individuals with poor posture are often victims of lower back pain. The way you sit, stand, and lie in bed dictates how weak or strong your back is. If you have a habit of slouching, make a habit of straightening your back. If you are among the many individuals that work on a computer, make sure that you use a chair with a backrest. Many people tend to bend their back or slouch while working on a desktop computer or laptop.
If you spend long hours working on a computer, use a good-quality swivel chair that supports your back. Do not lie in bed and work on a laptop or tablet. If you do not have a work desk at home, sit up against a wall and get busy. Improving your posture can minimize the occurrence of back pain and also reduce pain. In cases of severe back pain, talk to a physical therapist who can instruct you on how to sit properly and stand and move about in a controlled manner to ensure that your spine is aligned the right way, thereby reducing strain on your back.
6. Use Ice or Heat Packs
If you have lower back pain resulting from a fall or an injury, this method does a lot of good. While using ice packs and heat packs will not heal your back pain, they certainly will provide you with relief and reduce any swelling or inflammation.
You can wrap a few cubes of ice in a thin towel and press them against the area where the pain occurs. You can do this up to three times a day: morning, afternoon, and at night. After three days, switch to a heat pack, using the same method. Heat packs provide relief and relax your muscles by increasing blood circulation in the area. Heat therapy does not heal back pain, but it does provide adequate relief.
Yoga has proven to be extremely beneficial for people with various back conditions. Joining a yoga class is a wise decision—it has numerous health benefits for the body and mind. Make sure you learn the different yoga poses properly under the guidance of an instructor. Do not be in a hurry if you have a chronic back problem—do the yoga poses slowly and correctly. Yoga is part of a slow healing process, and making yoga a part of your lifestyle will help you realize its long-term benefits.
Depending on the severity of pain, you can opt for medications to control your back pain. Although different types of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers are available over the counter, it’s wise to consult your doctor first. There are different types of medication depending on the type and severity of pain. Acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen), are a popular choice among individuals who suffer from low back pain.
Mild analgesics are used as the first line of treatment by doctors to treat back pain. Painkillers and pain relievers can only provide relief or reduce pain, but cannot heal you. Doctors may also prescribe muscle relaxants to ease the pain in your lower back.
If depression or trauma is found to be the cause of lower back pain, doctors may start treatment with antidepressants to provide relief. For sciatic pain, antiseizure drugs such as carbamazepine and gabapentin are sometimes used. Epidural steroid injections (ESIs) may also be prescribed by doctors to provide fast relief from pain in the lumbar region (lower back), depending on the extent.
9. Nerve Stimulation Techniques
Individuals with chronic back pain might be recommended nerve stimulation techniques by doctors if different methods of medication are not working, such as Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). Spinal cord stimulation—also referred to as neurostimulation—is done by placing a small device near the spine to direct mild electrical pulses to block and interfere with pain signals to the brain. Doctors may also consider acupuncture therapy sessions depending on the severity of the back problem.
10. Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain
Acupuncture therapy is a form of alternative medicine that involves inserting fine needles at certain parts of the body. The needles are then stimulated with twisting or tapping techniques to trigger the release of chemicals such as serotonin, acetylcholine, and endorphins into the muscles, spinal cord, and brain. It alters how the brain perceives pain and provides a sense of well-being. Acupuncture is a key component of traditional Chinese medicine, dating back 2,500 years.
Spinal stenosis surgery may be recommended for a herniated disc that radiates a significant amount of pain in the legs and causes leg weakness. The partial removal of a disc, called a discectomy, is known to provide relief much faster than nonsurgical treatments. Surgery can provide long-term pain relief; however, there is no conclusive evidence proving that it heals the herniated disc completely. After the procedure, physiotherapy sessions help individuals recover.
12. Chiropractic Treatment
Individuals with different kinds of sub-chronic or chronic lower back problems can opt for chiropractic treatment. Chiropractors reduce pain and relax muscles by using manual therapy, or spinal manipulation therapy (SMT), which involves manipulating the spine, soft tissue, and joints with hand pressure to adjust different areas of the neck and back.
What Should You Do If You Have Lower Back Pain?
- When you have a severe pain in the lower back, avoid lifting or moving heavy things or objects. You are likely to worsen your problem if you lift something heavy. If your work involves moving something heavy, it is advisable that you take a few days off before resuming your work. While on the job, make sure you having help when lifting or moving heavy loads or objects
- Avoid carrying a heavy or overstuffed handbag or laptop bag to work. Carrying a heavy load increases stress and muscle tension, causing further strain on your back. When you are traveling, avoid using backpacks. Instead, opt for travel bags with wheels. Wheeled luggage can be moved easily and considerably reduces pressure on the back.
- If you have been having prolonged back pain and have a sedentary lifestyle, it’s time you make the right lifestyle changes. A healthy lifestyle makes a big difference. Workout daily to keep fit, as obesity increases the likelihood of lower back pain. Exercising and shedding those extra kilos will help you feel better, improve your posture, and get rid of the strain on your back.
- When you are working at a computer or laptop, make sure that your desk is at a comfortable height. Computer users suffer from lower back problems when their chair and desk are not aligned properly. When if the desk and chair height are not right, a computer user will either lean forward toward the screen or develop a slouching habit, causing an uncomfortable curved position for the back that causes spine stress. Make sure your back is straight while working and keep it supported firmly by the chair’s backrest. Always adjust the chair in accordance with your height. Do not spend excessively long hours in front of the computer. If your job requires you to work long hours, it is wise to take breaks and do 5-minute exercises, such as shoulder shrugs and neck rotations, to avoid a stiff neck or back.
I hope the aforementioned treatments and tips come in handy in helping you deal with your back pain. Here’s wishing you a speedy recovery.
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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
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