What Causes Low Back Pain and How Can I Treat It?

Low back pain is a common ailment that can potentially have a profound impact on a person’s life, both at work and at home.  The pain starts below the ribcage, in the lumbar region.  Low back pain can get better on its own. If not, there are effective treatments.

Causes include your job, your bag, your posture and your workout. Other reasons include being overweight, having an inactive lifestyle and jobs that require heavy lifting.

Symptoms range from a dull ache to a stabbing or shooting sensation. In some cases the pain may make it hard to move or stand up straight. Acute back pain can happen suddenly after an injury from sports or heavy lifting. It is considered chronic back pain if it lasts more than three months. See a doctor if the pain is not better within 72 hours, or if you cannot urinate or are having stool accidents.

Heavy lifting or exercising with poor form can cause muscle strain. But back pain may also be related to a disc that bulges or ruptures. If a bulging or ruptured disc presses on the sciatic nerve, pain may run from the buttock down one leg. This is called sciatica.

The basic treatment to relieve back pain is relative rest. One should not just lay in bed or on the couch, but certainly should take things easier and avoid any strenuous activities. An ice pack and aspirin or other anti-inflammatory drug can reduce pain and inflammation. After the inflammation subsides, applying heat can soothe muscles and connective tissue.

In most cases, within 24 hours, back pain sufferers can start normal, non-strenuous activity, such as walking. Other options include controlled exercise or physical therapy, which may include massage, ultrasound, whirlpool baths, controlled application of heat, and individually tailored exercise programs to help you regain full use of the back. Strengthening both the abdominal and back muscles helps stabilize the spine. You can prevent further back injury by learning – and doing – gentle stretching exercises and proper lifting techniques, and maintaining good posture. Medication or a referral to a specialist such as those at NeuroSpine Center of Wisconsin, may be recommended, if needed.

By Daniel Sutton, MD, family physician, ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca