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The spine of the low back is referred to as the lumbar spine in scientific circles. The spine is made of vertebrae that are stacked together to provide protection, movement and support to the spinal cord. The spinal cord is composed of nervous tissue that extends down the spinal column from the brain. This lumbar region of the spine is very susceptible to pain because it supports most of the body weight.
Low back pain can range from a dull ache to a stabbing or shooting sensation. This can be so painful that it can hard to move or stand up straight. It can comes on suddenly, such as during sports or heavy lifting. Pain that lasts more than three months is considered chronic pain. If it last for less than three months, it is called acute pain.
Most people experience back pain in their late 20s to 30s. The older we get, the higher the chances of experiencing low back pain. Some of the frequent causes of low back pain include lumbar strain, nerve irritation, pinched nerve, bony encroachment of bone into the spinal canal, and other conditions of the bone and joints.
Another cause for low back pain is muscle strain, it can result from heavy lifting or vigorous exercise. Even repeatedly carry a purse, backpack, or briefcase over your shoulder can strain the lower back. Being overweight, having a sedentary lifestyle or having a physically strenuous job can increase your risk of developing back pain.
If you’ve had a recent fall or injury that has resulted in back pain, visit your doctor.
Delineating a more precise cause may require the use of imaging studies like MRI, CT and X-rays.
Low back pain can cause a wide variety of symptoms depending on the cause. The symptoms can include numbness or tingling of the lower limbs, incontinence of urine or stool, inability to walk without worsening pain, weakness of lower extremity, decreased size of the muscles of your lower extremities, joint pain, and fatigue.
The intervertebral discs are prone to wear and tear from aging or injuries. This may cause it to rupture or bulge, and put pressure on the spinal nerves. This condition is known as a herniated disk and can cause intense pain in the low back.
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, which can put pressure on the spinal nerves. Conditions like spondylitis may inflame the joints of the spine and cause chronic back pain and stiffness. In serious cases, spinal vertebrae start to fuse together.
Back pain due to muscle strain will usually get better eventually, but taking steps to make yourself more comfortable like using a heating pad or warm baths may provide faster pain relief.
Low back pain is diagnosed based on cumulative analysis of your medical history, physical examination and diagnostic imaging scans.
Physical examination: Physical examination involves assessing the degree of motion, site of pain and evaluation of nerve and muscle using specific movements. Your doctor may be able to diagnose nonspecific low back pain from the description of the pain and by examining you.
Diagnostic imaging: Imaging studies such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs may be ordered to investigate extent of degenerative changes and helps visualise all involved tissues like bone, muscles, nerves, ligaments and cartilage. These imaging studies can help to determine the exact cause of your low back pain, especially to assess if there is involvement of a nerve root. These studies can also help determine the most suitable treatment option for you.
Low back pain is usually treated through medical intervention and non-invasive therapies, surgery is typically last resort.
Research indicates that massage therapy, stretching and exercise can alleviate pain in the low back both short-term and long-term. Over-the-counter pain killer medications can help relieve muscle aches. If these don’t work, your doctor may prescribe stronger medication.
Physiotherapy can help you strengthen your back through stretches, exercises, and low-impact cardio without straining your back.
If pain is interfering with your daily life, and other treatments have not provided relief, surgery may become an option. Depending on the cause of your pain, a surgeon may remove a herniated disc, widen the space around the spinal cord, and/or fuse two spinal vertebrae together.
There are many surgical options available and your doctor may need to tailor the surgery for you. These days, minimally invasive procedures like endoscopic surgeries are preferred for chronic and worsening low back pain.