Lower back pain is a common reason for visits to the doctor, affecting people of all ages and activity levels. An estimated 8 in 10 people experience this musculoskeletal disorder at some point in their lives. It accounts for more sick leave and disability than any other medical condition. It is easy to write off low back pain; however, when the pain becomes a chronic condition, it can significantly impact the quality of life.
Low back pain can begin suddenly. It can result from an accident or from lifting something heavy. It can also develop over time due to age-related changes to the spine, disease, or as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. Thus, it is not always possible to identify a specific back injury or condition which might be causing lower back pain. However, this should not prevent lower back pain from being managed or treated.
The most common cause of low back pain is an injury or overuse of muscles, ligaments, or joints. This is prevalent for people playing sports where there is a repetition of movement. Pain can be worsened by pressure on nerve roots in the spinal canal. This compression can be caused by a herniated disc, which can be a result of a sudden movement or brought on by repeated vibration or motion. These types of injuries are frequently found in weight lifters, as well as people whose professions require assembly-line types of repetitive behavior.
As people age, osteoarthritis can develop. When osteoarthritis affects the small facet joints in the spine, it can lead to back pain. Osteoarthritis in other joints, such as the hips, can cause you to limp or change the way you walk. This can also lead to low back pain. Other conditions that can contribute to low back pain include spinal stenosis, ankylosing spondylitis, compression fractures, and spondylolisthesis.
Diagnosing the cause of lower back pain
Kidney problems, ovary problems, tumors, infection, or even pregnancy can cause lower back pain. It is important to see a physician rule out these conditions – especially if you are unable to point to a specific injury as the cause of your low back pain. In addition to completing a physical examination, your pain doctor will want to run tests to determine exactly where the pain is stemming from. These tests might include spinal x-rays, MRI or CT scans, or nerve studies. He or she may ask you about any personal history of arthritis or spine injuries, your family history of back pain, and your daily routines and movements.
Managing lower back pain
After a thorough examination, your pain doctor will talk with you about your goals and recommend options for lower back pain management. Treatment plans may include medication, specialized stretches for back pain, or lower back strength training with a physical therapist. In complex cases, nerve stimulators or minimally invasive procedures may be recommended. Ongoing treatments could include heat/ice therapy, massage therapy, and other alternative therapies. And because chronic pain often affects mood, cognitive-behavioral therapy may be recommended to help teach patients appropriate coping skills for dealing with anxiety, depression, and irritability.
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