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Lower back pain is a pretty common occurrence. It can be due to several factors such as a strain or injury to your muscles and tendons in the back. Other common causes are injuries to the discs that act as a buffer between the vertebrae in your spinal cord, structural issues, and arthritis.

While lower back pain treatments and medications are available and can help you reduce the pain, rest is most important for pain relief. Treatments, physical therapies, and medications can also help reduce pain.

We look at some of the most common symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and effective treatments that can give you relief from severe lower back pain.

What Is Lower Back Pain

Your lumbar spine, better known as the lower back, is an extremely well-designed structure that connects your bones, joints, nerves, ligaments, and muscles to create an intelligent system that gives your body strength and flexibility.

Your entire upper body weight is supported by your lower back which helps it to carry out daily functions such as bending and twisting. The muscles in the lower back help you flex and rotate your hips when you walk and also hold your spinal column.

The nerves in your lower back are responsible for the sensations and power the muscles in your legs, pelvis, and feet.

But the complex nature of the spine demands extreme care and attention, and not giving it proper attention could leave it vulnerable to injuries. These injuries could be caused by many factors such as certain health conditions, diseases, or accidents that typically affect the muscles, nerves, or tendons in the back.

Lower back pain can range from mild to severe. In some cases, pain can make it difficult or impossible to walk, sleep, work, or carry out your everyday activities. But in many cases, lower back pain gets better with rest, pain relievers, and physical therapy.

Cortisone injections and touch treatments like osteopathy may give relief from pain and aid the healing process. But sometimes, your back injury may need surgical repair.

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

There could be many conditions that could lead to severe lower back pain. Some of these conditions are:

Strains and Sprains

Straining your back due to vigorous activity and sprains are two of the most common causes of back pain. Lifting something too heavy or in an incorrect posture while lifting may lead to injuries to your muscles, tendons, or ligaments. There have been incidences where individuals have sprained their back just by twisting incorrectly or even sneezing and coughing {2}.

Structural Problems

When your spinal column is too narrow for your spinal cord, it can lead to a condition known as spinal stenosis. This causes a pinching of the spinal cord and causes immense pain in the sciatic nerve and lower back.

Another condition called scoliosis (curvature of the spine) can also cause pain, stiffness, and moving difficulties {2}.

Back Injuries

While a bad fall or a car accident can cause a lower back injury, lifting heavy weights can also be hazardous. While some back injuries could be sudden, some could be gradual and may become more severe over time.

Athletes live an active lifestyle and can easily do many movements that are not common. But many of the injuries that they go through are due to simple movements like bending over to pick up a sock or lifting a reasonably heavy object in an incorrect posture.

Herniated Discs

Discs are spongy cushions that are circular pieces of cartilage that separate the bones in your spinal cord. They are present in between each vertebra and act as cushions by reducing the friction between the vertebrae (small spinal bones).

Discs can bulge from their original position. A bulging disc is one that has come out of the lining and this typically happens in the lower back region.

Although it may not always be directly painful, it could press on nearby nerves in the spinal cord and lead to immense discomfort and pain in the lower back and other areas below your back.

Discs can also tear (herniated disk) and with age, they may become flat due to which your bones get less protection. This condition is called degenerative disk disease {1}.

Arthritis of the Spine

This is the gradual degeneration of the joints in your spine and is one of the most common causes of back pain. This generally happens in older people due to the wear and tear over time that leads to a breakdown in the cartilage that is present between the spinal joints.

It leads to the inflammation of the tissues around the joints. This inflammation along with the friction of the joints is what causes pain {1}.

Incorrect Posture

Sitting for long hours in a hunched position could lead to back pain over time. It can also be a direct result of other everyday activities that you may do with your back in an incorrect posture.

Some examples include straining your neck forward for long periods when looking at a computer, regularly driving for long durations without a break, or sleeping without giving your spine and neck the proper support it needs.

Sciatica

Sometimes lower back pain can also radiate to other parts of the body and can manifest on either side or both sides of the back. If you have shooting pain from the lower back on one or both legs, it could be sciatica.

This happens when a herniated disc presses on the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve connects the spine to the legs and when the disc presses on the sciatic nerve, it can lead to shooting pain in the legs and feet on one or both sides.

This pain typically feels like pins and needles along the rear side of your leg. Although there may not be any immediate relief for sciatica pain, getting enough rest or using pain killers may give you some relief from sciatica.

Keep in mind that sciatica may not always be the cause of pain. Other parts in your lower back such as the facet joints, the sacroiliac joints, or even inflammation of the bursa can cause lower back pain {1}.

Stress

There has been much focus on the connection between psychological stress and its effects on your physiology. Research suggests that constantly experiencing stressful situations is detrimental to your body’s stress response system.

Your brain cells called neurons transmit information between different areas of the brain, and between the brain and the rest of the nervous system and are responsible for your body’s reaction to pain. 

This reaction passageway originates in the brainstem and terminates at the spinal cord. The goal of this pathway is to stimulate your bodily response to the source of the pain (known as the facilitatory pathway) and then reduce the pain signal by inhibiting the activity of the neurons (known as the inhibitory pathway).

Chronic stress hampers your system’s pain processing mechanism and influences the serotonin passageway that activates the neurons.

Constant activation of this passageway leads to its deterioration causing an imbalance that is linked to bouts of pain that last longer.

This is especially true for long-term exposure to stress that may harm your body’s pain inhibition systems and cause chronic pain {4}.

What Are the Symptoms of Lower Back Pain

Symptoms of lower back pain may appear suddenly or over a while. In some cases, symptoms occur when doing specific movements or actions such as lifting an object or bending, while there are some incidents where you may be unable to identify what exactly causes the pain.

The degree of pain you feel may also vary. At times, it could be sharp while at other times it could be dull and extend to the lower part of your legs (this is especially true in the case of sciatica).

You may feel acute pain when you do certain movements and actions and it may ease when you rest. Some of the other symptoms of back pain include:

  • Stiffness. This prevents you from doing specific movements or limits the movement of your back muscles. It could also lead to slower movements such as when you get up from a seated position and in some cases could also limit your range of motion.
  • Challenges with your posture. In many cases, people with back pain find it tough to stand erect as doing so causes pain. This may lead to a crooked position where you’re either bending forward or sideways to avoid the pain that you feel when you stand straight.
  • Spasms. If you’ve had a strain in your back muscles, it could lead to spasms – a condition where the muscles in your back contract impulsively and cause pain. Spasms could prevent you from doing simple movements such as walking or standing {2}.

How to Diagnose Lower Back Pain

Your doctor will check for the symptoms and also do a physical examination. The doctor may also recommend some tests to get a clearer picture of your spine, discs, muscles, and tendons to arrive at possible treatment options to relieve the pain.

Some of the tests that the doctor may recommend include:

  • X-ray. This test uses radiation to get images of your bones and understand the extent of injury to the spine.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). This test utilizes a combination of magnetic and radio waves to generate images of the bones, muscles, and other soft tissues in your body.
  • CT Scan. In this, the images generated by an X-ray are used to produce 3D images of the bones and soft tissues.
  • Electromyography (EMG). This is used to test your nerves and muscles and determine possible nerve damage (called neuropathy) that could lead to sensations such as tingling or numbness in your legs.
  • Other tests. Your doctor may also recommend other tests like a blood or urine test to identify any genetic markers that may put you at risk for certain conditions such as ankylosing spondylitis which could be the cause of your back pain. Urine tests are used to determine the presence of kidney stones that could cause pain in your sides – more specifically pain in your lower left back or lower right back {2}.

Lower Back Pain Treatment

Rest and ice treatments are the first things you can do to reduce lower back pain. Over-the-counter pain killers can also relieve your pain and help you return to your daily activities.

Staying active improves the blood circulation to your lower back and helps the healing process. In addition to this, doctors may also suggest some of the following methods to reduce your pain.

  • Medications. Your doctor may recommend prescription drugs to lower the pain. These could also include some muscle relaxants that prevent back spasms.
  • Natural therapies. There are many hands-on and natural therapies that help relieve pain by relaxing the muscles that are contracted and improving your posture and alignment of the spinal cord. Research has shown that osteopathy treatments and back massage therapies not only help relieve lower back pain but also rehabilitate and restore spinal function.
  • Physiotherapy. Physiotherapy strengthens your muscles to improve support for your spine. It also increases your flexibility and prevents the recurrence of back injuries.
  • Surgery. In some cases, surgery may be needed. The type of surgery is usually determined by the extent of the injury and the area that is affected. Certain surgeries are less invasive while others may be deeper and would need a longer recovery period {2}.

When to See Your Doctor for Back Pain?

There are several causes of back pain and many times getting enough rest will help relieve the pain. But persistent pain in the back is something that you should be mindful of and could be an indication of a more serious underlying issue.

See your doctor if you have persistent back pain or any of the following conditions:

  • If your back pain lingers for a few weeks 
  • If you have severe lower back pain that doesn’t improve with rest
  • If your lower back pain extends below the knees in one or both legs
  • If your back pain leads to weakness, numbness, or tingling sensations in one or both legs
  • If the pain in your back is due to a fall, an impact on your back, or any other injury
  • If you have severe pain or muscle spasms in the lower left or lower right back region that hamper your day-to-day activities

You should report back pain that hampers any activity you were able to do before the pain started {2} {3}.

Natural Therapies for Pain Relief

The Happiness Center offers several natural hands-on therapies that are highly effective in reducing lower back pain.

Our proven techniques based on the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda offer personalized treatments to reduce your lower back pain. The experts at our center understand your specific body constitution, the type and severity of the pain, the factors that have caused it, and your medical history.

They then chart out treatment plans that include internal and external treatments and therapies such as deep tissue massages, diet, and important lifestyle changes that not only reduce your pain but also help you manage it long term.

You can book an appointment with our experts to know the best course of action.

 

 

Venkat - AuthorAbout the Author:

Venkat is a freelance writer and an SEO buff. He writes about health & wellness, technology and finance.

 

Sources:

Cleveland Clinic: “Lower Back Pain.”

International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: ‘Stress and Alterations in the Pain Matrix: A Biopsychosocial Perspective on Back Pain and Its Prevention and Treatment.”

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Lower Back Pain: What Could It Be?”

Mayo Clinic: “Back pain.”

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