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Lower Back Pain: Causes, Tips and Different Types of Treatments

Updated on March 23, 2018

Causes of lower back pain can be due to various factors or due to an underlying disorder. Majority of lower back problems among individuals stem from improper posture. The way we sit, stand or carry ourselves can make a big difference in spine structure as we age. The extent of lower back pain is classified by duration of pain. Acute pain in the lower back refers to pain that lasts less than 6 weeks. Sub-chronic lower back conditions lasts around 6 to 12 weeks and chronic lower back pains often last for over a year or indefinitely.

The pain in lower back can be painful in the form of a tingling sensation or a constant ache that occurs and stops, and reoccurs. In many cases an underlying medical problem that has not been diagnosed can be the reason for pain in the lower back. Muscle tear and joint strain can also lead to an uneasy sensation in the lower back. Damage of intervertebral discs in the vertebral column could to different types of lower back pain. In case of damaged discs a simple straight leg raise test helps identify cause and extent of damage when warranted with imaging such as MRI. Determining the cause of back pain is important before you start treatment. Keep in mind diagnostic imaging or laboratory testing for lower back pain is not necessary if pain is not persistent and chronic.

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Individuals with lower back pain may complain about shooting pain, tingling pain, recurring pain, acute pain of chronic pain. Lower back pain can is classified under three types

1. Mechanical Back Pain- This type includes musculoskeletal strains, degenerative discs, broken vertebrae, herniated discs, joint disease or compressed nerve roots, compression fracture, 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 arthritis that includes reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and psoriatic arthritis.

3. Referred Pain- This type includes pain associated with internal organs such as kidney stones, gallbladder disease, aortic aneurysm, lungs, breast, kidney infections, thyroid, and prostrate among others.

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Signs and symptoms help identify and classify lower back pain. When diffuse pain does not change as a response to specific or particular movements and is restricted to the lower back without radiation lower than the buttocks it is classified as Nonspecific Pain.

Pain that radiates below the buttocks down to the leg below the knee and is persistently found to be on one side because of a herniated disc or on both sides due to spinal stenosis and has changes in severity due to certain maneuvers or positions is classified as Radicular Pain

Pain that stems from signs associated with red flags such as fever, history of cancer, muscle weakness and trauma, that indicate a serious condition or an underlying problem is classified as Needing Urgent or Specialized Attention.

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Individuals in the professions mentioned below are at risk of different kinds of back Pain

  • Construction Workers
  • Warehouse Workers
  • Cab Drivers
  • Truck Drivers
  • Mechanics
  • Loaders/Unloaders
  • Baggage Handlers at Airports
  • Call Center Agents
  • Window Cleaners
  • Firefighters
  • Agricultural Farmers
  • Carpet and Floor Installers
  • Healthcare Workers
  • Dock Workers
  • Computer Professionals (Individuals Required to Work on Computers)
  • Receptionists
  • Fire Fighters
  • Policemen
  • Janitors
  • Hard Labourers
  • Traffic Police
  • A/C Technicians

Common back injuries such as strains, sprains, ligament damage, and ligament tear, result from activity that involves moving heavy objects or heavy lifting. At times such activities may lead to disc injury, herniated disc or 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.

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Low back pain can be caused due to a variety of underlying problems that may vary in levels of seriousness. Although the specific cause of low back pain is never clear, in majority of cases lower back pain may occur due to

  • Heavy lifting
  • Constant bending
  • Bad posture
  • Spending long hours working on a computer
  • Twisting the trunk
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary Jobs
  • Poor Sleeping Position
  • Heavy Physical Work
  • Sports Injuries
  • Weight Gain During Pregnancy
  • Sprains
  • Bad Health Condition
  • Smoking
  • Strains
  • Falls

Sub-chronic or chronic lower back pain may occur due to

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Degeneration of the Discs
  • Broken Vertebrae/s
  • Spinal Disc Herniation

1. Exercise for Lower Back Pain

The best way to get rid of back pain or prevent back pain is exercise. There is no substitute for exercise. Doing simple lower back exercises and stretches helps a great deal in strengthening your back and preventing reoccurrence of pain. When you improve your strength and flexibility you minimize the occurrence of back pain. Exercising makes muscles firm and reduces the occurrence muscle pull, sprain and strain greatly. Here’s a list of back strengthening and lower back exercises you can do daily for 20 minutes. You can do the exercises mentioned below on a yoga mat.

  • Press-Up Back Extensions
  • Knee Rolls
  • Pelvic Tilts
  • Hamstring Stretches
  • Back Extensions
  • Bridging (Bridges)
  • Knee To Chest
  • Deep Abdominal Strengthening
  • Bottom to Heels Stretch
  • Wall Sits
  • Bird Dog

2. Use a Firm Mattress

If you have lower back pain you should be sleeping on a thin-hard mattress instead a soft-foam mattress. Sleeping on a firm mattress encourages good sleeping posture and helps sore muscle relax while sleeping. Lying or sleeping on a hard mattress or a hard surface supports the back well. Also 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. You can wear a brace/belt to support your back. Although wearing a brace or belt does not reduce pain in the lower back it helps maintain a good posture required for a straight back incline and also makes daily activities less painful and easy.

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. 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 the 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 and discuss your back problem.

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5. Make a Conscious Effort to Improve Your Posture

Individuals with poor posture or bad 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, get habituated to straightening you back. If you are among the many individuals that work on a computer, make sure you use a chair with a back rest. Globally, a number of individuals bend their back or slouch while using on a desktop computer or a 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 case of severe back pain, you can take help of a physical therapist who will instruct you properly on how to sit, stand and move about in a controlled manner in a way to ensure your spine is aligned the right way thereby reducing strain on your back.

6. Use Ice Packs and Heat Packs for Lower Back Pain

If you have lower back pain resulting from a fall or an injury this method does a lot good. Using ice packs and heat packs will not heal you of your back pain but the method certainly will provide you relief and reduce swelling or inflammation if any. You can wrap few cubes of ice in a thin towel and get someone to apply in the lower back area where pain occurs. You can do this 3 times a day, morning, afternoon and at night. Do this for 3 days and switch to a heat pack. Apply the heat pack the same way to the lower back area when pain occurs. A heat pack provides relief and relaxes muscles by increasing blood circulation in the area. Heat therapy does not heal back pain but does provide adequate relief from pain.

7. Yoga for Back Pain

Yoga has proven extremely beneficial for people with varied back conditions. Joining yoga class is a wise decision because the health benefits of yoga for body and mind are numerous. Make sure you learn the different yoga poses for lower back pain properly under the guidance of a yoga instructor. Do not be in a hurry. If you have a chronic back problem, do the yoga poses slowly and correctly. Yoga offers a slow process of healing and well being. Making yoga a part of your lifestyle will make you realize the long-term benefits of good health.

8. Back Pain Medications

Depending on the severity of pain you can opt for back pain medications. Although different types of anti-inflammatory drugs and pain relievers are available over the counter at pharmacies/drugstores, it’s wise to consult your doctor before taking pain relievers. There are different types of medication depending on the type of back pain and severity of pain. Acetaminophen and (NSAIDs) Nonsterodial Anti-Inflammatory Drugs such as Motrin (ibuprofen) or Aleve (naproxen) are often a popular choice with individuals that suffer from low back pain.

Mild analgesics are used as a first line of treatment by doctors to treat back pain. Painkillers and pain relievers can only provide relief or reduce pain but not heal you of your back pain. 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 a line of treatment with antidepressants to provide relief. For sciatic pain antiseizure drugs such as carbamazepine and gabapentin are sometimes used. (ESIs) Epidural steroid injections may also be used by doctors to provide fast relief from pain in the lumbar region (low back) depending on the severity and extent of pain.

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9. Nerve Stimulation Techniques

Individuals with chronic back pain might be recommended nerve stimulation techniques by doctors if different lines of medication are not working. (TENS) Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation is a line of treatment that has benefitted individuals with chronic back pain. Spinal cord Stimulation also referred to as neurostimulation is the process that directs electrical pulses that are mild to cause an interference to block pain signals reaching the brain. The pulses are generated by a small device placed near the spine. Doctors may also consider acupuncture therapy sessions in your line of treatment depending on severity of the back problem.

10. Acupuncture for Lower Back Pain

Acupuncture therapy is a form of alternative medicine that is effective in treating different kinds of lower back pain. The process involves inserting fine needles at certain parts of the body. When fine needles are inserted at specific points and stimulated with twisting or tapping techniques it triggers a release of chemicals such as serotonin, acetylcholine and endorphins into muscles, spinal cord and brain altering the experience of pain and providing relief with a sense of well-being. Acupuncture is a key component in Traditional Chinese Medicine which began 2,500 years ago, and is used by modern day Acupuncture practitioners to relieve pain and promote good health.

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11. Surgery for Back Pain

Surgery may be recommended for back pain associated with a herniated disc that radiates a significant amount of pain in legs and caused leg weakness. In cases where individuals have had spinal stenosis surgery has proven helpful. The partial removal of a disc referred to as Disectomy is known to provide relief much faster than nonsurgical treatments. Surgeries may provide long term benefits for the back; however, there is no conclusive evidence in regard with complete healing. Physiotherapy sessions help individuals a great deal in the recovery stage after surgical procedures for the back.

12. Chiropractic Treatment for Lower Back Pain

Individuals with different kinds of sub-chronic or chronic lower back problems can opt for chiropractic treatment technique. Chiropractors use manual therapy, SMT (Spinal Manipulation Therapy) in particular which involves the process of manipulation of spine, soft tissues and other joints with hand pressure utilized for adjustment in different areas of the neck and back for muscle relaxation and pain reduction.

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What you should do if you have Lower Back Pain

1. When you have a severe pain in the lower back, avoid lifting or moving heavy things or objects. You are likely to worsen your back problem if you lift something heavy. If your work involves moving something heavy, it is advisable you take few days rest before you resume your job. While on your job make sure you lift or move heavy loads/objects with the help of somebody.

2. Avoid carrying a heavy or overstuffed handbag, laptop bag to work. Carrying a heavy load increases stress and muscle tension on the back causing further strain. Also, when you are traveling avoid using backpacks that you need to strap onto your shoulder. Instead opt for travel bags with wheels. Travel bags with wheels can be moved easily and reduce pressure on the back considerably.

3. If you have been having prolonged back pain with a sedentary lifestyle, it’s time you make the right changes. A healthy lifestyle makes a big difference. Workout daily to keep fit. A number of obese individuals suffer from lower back pain. When you exercise and shed those extra kilos, you will feel better, improve your posture and get rid of strain on your back.

4. When you are working on a computer or laptop, make sure your work desk is at a comfortable height. Computer users suffer from lower back problems when their chair and work desk is not aligned properly. When the height of a work desk and swivel chair is not right, a computer user will lean forward towards the screen or form a slouching habit, causing an uncomfortable curved position for the back that causes spine stress. While working on a computer at home or at the workplace make sure your back is straight and is supported firmly by the chair’s back rest. Always adjust the swivel 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 back or stiff neck.

Hope the aforementioned treatments and tips come in handy to help you deal with your back pain. Here’s wishing you the best and a speedy recovery.

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© 2018 Ansel Pereira

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