Living with lower back pain

Most people would have experienced lower back pain at one time or another. (Rawpixel pic)

Chronic lower back pain is often found in the elderly, while acute pain can be caused by a fall or other mishap.

Lower back pain is becoming more common among younger people who are desk bound all day or those who do manual labour.

In general, lower back pain, which usually does not involve serious conditions, is caused by poor posture and exceeding the endurance limit of the back and abdominal muscles.

What is lower back pain?

Lower back pain refers to discomfort in the lower back area, which consists of the vertebrae, intervertebral disc, spinal cord (containing nerves), muscles and tendons.

Muscles in the back and abdomen help support the spine and become uncomfortable if injuries to this section occur. The pain can be acute — for several days — or chronic, which lasts much longer.

It is a common condition and nearly everyone experiences it at least once in their lifetime. It can be prevented by reducing the risk factors but do consult a doctor for more information.

Common signs and symptoms

Symptoms will appear when the back is injured. It may cause a tingling or burning sensation, a dull ache or sharp pain. The pain may be mild or so severe you cannot move.

Depending on the cause of the back pain, it can spread to the legs, hips or soles of the feet, which may also weaken.

These signs usually go away after a few days or weeks of treatment, while some chronic cases could require prolonged treatment.

If other symptoms are causing concern, consult a doctor to explore them in greater detail.

If any of the above symptoms occur, or if there are questions or concerns, it is best to speak to a doctor. The symptoms may vary in different people, so it is always best to seek professional medical advice for an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.

Lifting heavy objects incorrectly can cause lower back pain. (Rawpixel pic)

Common causes

An injury or accident such as a fall can cause acute pain in the lower back that lasts one to seven days. Chronic pain typically lasts longer and can stretch up to three months or more.

Common causes include:

  • Sudden turns or movements
  • Obesity
  • Lifting heavy objects incorrectly
  • Weak lumbar and abdominal muscles
  • Sitting for long stretches of time
  • Reaching beyond the body’s range

It can also be the result of arthritis or fibromyalgia (a rheumatic condition), and serious conditions such as cancer, kidney disease or blood disorders.

Factors that increase the risk of lower back pain

Anyone can experience back pain, even children and teenagers. Factors such as being overweight, a lack of exercise and improper lifting of heavy objects are often cited as causes of back pain, however studies on the actual risk factors are still not clear.

According to statistics, people with psychological problems such as depression and anxiety, are at a higher risk of experiencing lower back pain but the definitive reasons remain unknown.

Diagnosis

A thorough diagnosis is made from understanding a detailed medical history and telltale signs. Procedures such as X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be performed if the doctor requires clearer images of the bones, nerves, discs or other organs.

The doctor may also perform a blood test to determine if the pain is caused by other conditions that share the same symptoms.

Treatment

The information provided here is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult a doctor for more information.

Treatment depends on the cause and severity of the condition.

If it is caused by an injury, the doctor may recommend using ice compression. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also help relieve pain. Severe pain may require short-term use of more potent medicines that contain morphine. A doctor would prescribe muscle relaxants for muscle spasm symptoms.

However, it should be noted that all of the above medicines have side effects. NSAIDs can cause stomach aches, ulcers, rashes as well as liver and kidney problems. Muscle relaxants can cause drowsiness, dizziness or rashes.

Physiotherapy may be a viable option to help relieve pain. This method is commonly used for those with chronic back pain and is known for its high success rates due to effective physical exercises for the waist and abdomen.

Exercise can help strengthen back muscles and prevent pain. (Rawpixel pic)

Lifestyle changes to help limit progression of lower back pain

Pain in the lower back can be addressed in the following ways:

  • Take prescription medication: If painkillers have been prescribed, keep track of the course of medication and monitor the progress of the pain without them. Consult a doctor if there is persistent back pain or weakness in the legs.
  • Lose weight: If you’re overweight, sign up for a fitness programme.
  • Practise stretching exercises daily: This will increase flexibility while strengthening back and abdominal muscles.
  • Maintain proper posture: while sitting, walking or carrying heavy objects.
  • Move: Do not remain immobile at a workstation for long periods, get into the habit of moving around periodically.

These minor lifestyle changes will not only help prevent back problems, but reduce the risk of developing other health conditions.

Consult a doctor for advice on the best treatment if there are any concerns or red flags about your health.

This article first appeared on Hello Doktor and was medically reviewed by the Hello Doktor Medical Panel. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.