Are you suffering with a feeling of pressure or pain in the lower part of your back? A common cause may be a musculoskeletal issue but there are other causes of pain in the lower back which we will look at, along with ways in which we can manage pain in the lower back.
Lower back pain is very common and most people, for one reason or another will suffer from some degree of lower back pain during their lifetime. In fact a study that was done in 2020 has identified pain in the lower back as the most frequently cited reason for missing work. Although in general most lower back pain will be as the result of injury, there are other medical conditions which can also give rise to this sort of pain.
Commonly, people between the ages of thirty and fifty will have their first brush with back pain as a direct result of the changes our bodies go through as we age. This change with age is because when we advance in years the fluid that acts as a cushion between the spine and the vertebrae reduces. When this happens the discs have less cushioning and are more easily prone to irritation. Along with that, muscle tone in the back also reduces with age and leaving the back more prone to injury.
For this reason it makes a lot of sense to keep your back muscles strong to keep back problems at bay.
There are many different reasons that we experience lower back pain
There are various causes of pain in the lower back, and that includes some underlying health conditions.
The ligaments and the muscles in the back are prone to stretching or even tearing if we exercise them excessively. As well as this, sudden movement can also give rise to a strain or a sprain. The symptoms of this type of back problem will be lower back stiffness and pain and quite commonly, muscle spasms.
Our discs are susceptible to injury, a risk which increases as we get older. The disc’s outer parts can herniate or could tear. This condition is also referred to as a ruptured or slipped disc. In this condition the cartilage that surrounds the disc will push against the nerve roots or the spinal cord and the cushioning that is normally between the vertebrae in the spine, will be extended. The result can be the roots of the nerve being squeezed at its exit point from the vertebrae and spinal cord.
This condition usually arises from trauma or from degenerative changes as we get older. If no treatment is given then the pain experienced from a disc that is herniated will generally subside after around six weeks.
The nerve that connects the legs to the spine is called the sciatic nerve.
If a disc that has become herniated starts to press on the nerve the condition that arises is called sciatica and the symptoms will be a burning like feeling in the leg or foot or a tingling feeling.
The term "spinal stenosis" refers to the fact that the spaces in between the spine’s vertebrae have narrowed. This has the effect of putting more pressure on the spinal nerves and the spinal cord. This condition is linked with disc degeneration in between the vertebrae of the spine. This results is the spinal cord or nerve roots being squeezed by soft tissue or bony spurs. This pressure may cause a patient to feel:
These sensations might occur at other sites in the body and a lot of people who suffer from spinal stenosis, report feeling worse when they walk or stand.
Several of the conditions causing curvature of the spine, which include lordosis, kyphosis and scoliosis are often conditions that the sufferer is born with and that will normally be diagnosed during the childhood of a sufferer. Having curvature of the spine can cause poor posture and pain because of the strain that it places on the:
It should be noted however that some people with curvature of the spine have no symptoms at all.
There are, of course, other conditions that cause pain in the lower back and they usually come with other symptoms. These are some of the conditions that give rise to the pain in the musculoskeletal areas:
There are some other conditions that may lead to lower back pain and those include:
When a doctor sees the patient complaining of lower back pain he or she will take a full history and carry out a very thorough physical examination to find out where the pain is being felt most. During a physical examination the doctor will always check to see if there is any limitation on range of movement caused by the pain. Responses and reflexes may also be checked again for certain sensations. By doing this the doctor can find out if the nerves are affected and identify the cause of the pain in the lower back.
Unless the symptoms you have raise concern with the doctor, or unless he or she identifies a neurological loss, the most likely course of action will be to monitor you for several weeks to see if the condition improves before you are sent for any additional tests. This is because most pain in the lower back will resolve on its own if you follow the advice of the doctor.
Some of the symptoms that may cause your doctor to send you for more extensive testing will include:
If you have any of the following symptoms in addition to your lower back pain then you should seek medical help immediately.
Your doctor may ask for imaging testing if he or she suspects the following:
The type of imaging test you may is likely to be:
After you have been diagnosed with lower back pain a plan of treatment will be drawn up for you that will take account of how severe your symptoms are and the reason for the pain you are suffering.
If you are suffering from lower back pain, it is usually advised that any self-help methods you try are limited to 72 hours, after which time if there is no improvement you seek medical attention. Some treatments you can do at home include:
Try different postures. Sometimes lying on your back,flat,will cause you more pain and if it does try to lie on one side bending your knees up and placing a pillow in-between your legs.
If it is comfortable to lie on your back then get a towel or a pillow and place it underneath your thighs so that you reduce lower back pressure.
There are several medical treatments that may help with lower back pain and they include:
Your doctor might prescribe:
You may be advised to wear a medical appliance often in the form of a back support or brace.
Any physical therapy that you have is likely to include:
In very severe cases surgical treatment may be required although not taken up until all other treatment approaches have failed. Emergency surgery will be done if a patient reports losing control of their bowels or bladder or is suffering from a neurological loss that is progressive - for instance weakness or numbness in the legs.
Surgery might be one of the following:
It is also possible that you may have surgery for some of the conditions that cause lower back pain such as Fibroids, endometriosis and cancer.
Perhaps your aim is to prevent the occurrence of pain in the lower back or maybe it is to treat pain that you currently have. There are full moves that should help and can be added to your daily exercise routine. They can be repeated once or twice a day. you should speak to your doctor before you undertake any of these types of exercise.
This kind of stretch will relax the hips, the Glutes, the lower part if the back and the thighs. It is done as follows:
This pose is known as a highly restorative pose in yoga because it stretches the thighs and Glutes and importantly, the para spinal muscles. This is how you do it:
Try adding a different move to your workout or stretch routine with the threading a needle pose from yoga, that will help the pelvis, spine and hips. This is how to do this pose:
If you can cope with something a bit more vigorous then you can try this Superman move. This is how you do it:
With any of these moves you should always make gentle slow and smooth movements and be ready to stop if it becomes painful.
If your back ache is severe then you should get medical help as soon as you can. If this is your first consultation be prepared to go through the steps we mentioned earlier with examination and possible further testing with imagery etc. Any pain that comes with loss of bladder or bowel control or with increasing numbness in the limbs must be treated as an emergency because it may require surgical intervention.
There are things you can do to protect your back. Some measures include:
Other things you can try:
It is true to say that most of the time lower back pain will resolve on its own. However there are sometimes when urgent medical attention should be sought.
Some of the instances where you should get a medical opinion as soon as possible:
Typically the lower part of your back has just 5 vertebrae which is a lot less than in your mid back and your neck and that means that these five vertebrae have a lot of heavy lifting to do. The area of the lower back is where your pelvis and spine connect and is also the area that holds up the weight of your upper torso. This area it is one that experiences stress and movement an awful lot and this can lead to injuries and wear and tear.
You might feel that your lower back pain is worse when the weather is changing or is cold and in fact it's not your imagination. Back pain has been found to be related to barometric pressure and to the temperature outdoors. Changes in barometric pressure have been found to cause pain in joints that are arthritic and the spine. Joints and muscles generally do react to our environment and when they become stiffer, then injury is more likely.
The answer to this question is an emphatic yes. Because the kidneys are located at the back of your body, pain in your kidneys can often feel as though it is actually pain in your back. The only way to differentiate between the two will be to visit a doctor who can make a proper diagnosis.
Yes. Pain in the lower back can certainly be a symptom of cancer and in fact is often one of the first symptoms of prostate cancer where it has spread and created lesions. Always take any pain that you suspect to be more than trivial back pain seriously. See your doctor as soon as you can.
If you've only just started to suffer from lower back pain, it can be a good idea to keep a diary of the times dates and symptoms you have experienced as well as any activity that you find makes the pain better or worse or triggers it in the first place. Once you have compiled a diary of your lower back problems take it to your family doctor which will make it easier for him or her to diagnose what is actually wrong.
If your lower back pain does not resolve on its own these are the things you should look out for that should prompt a visit to the doctor.
Your GP should know you best and would be the best first contact for your lower back pain. If they feel that they cannot treat or diagnose the issue then they may refer you on to a specialist or to a physician specialising in rehabilitation who will have many possible solutions available to you. There may also be a role for a physiotherapist a chiropractor or other type of practitioner depending on what the cause of your back pain is. Although we have mentioned surgery for back pain it is very rare that this is needed with lower back pain with only about one in 10 patients needing this type of intervention.