Low back pain is pain and stiffness in the lower back. It is one of the most common reasons people miss work.
Low back pain is usually caused when a ligament or muscle holding a vertebra in its proper position is strained. Vertebrae are bones that make up the spinal column through which the spinal cord passes. When these muscles or ligaments become weak, the spine loses its stability, resulting in pain. Because nerves reach all parts of the body from the spinal cord, back problems can lead to pain or weakness in almost any part of the body.
Low back pain can occur if your job involves lifting and carrying heavy objects, or if you spend a lot of time sitting or standing in one position or bending over. It can be caused by a fall or by unusually strenuous exercise. It can be brought on by the tension and stress that cause headaches in some people. It can even be brought on by violent sneezing or coughing.
People who are overweight may have low back pain because of the added stress on their back.
Back pain may occur when the muscles, joints, bones, and connective tissues of the back become inflamed as a result of an infection or an immune system problem. Arthritic disorders as well as some congenital and degenerative conditions may cause back pain.
Back pain accompanied by loss of bladder or bowel control, difficulty in moving your legs, or numbness or tingling in your arms or legs may indicate an injury to your spine and nerves, which requires immediate medical treatment.
The pain may be continuous or may occur only in certain positions. It may be aggravated by coughing, sneezing, bending, twisting, or straining during a bowel movement. The pain may occur in only one spot or may spread to other areas, most commonly down the buttocks and into the back of the thigh.
A low back strain typically does not produce pain past the knee into the calf or foot. Tingling or numbness in the calf or foot may indicate a herniated disk or pinched nerve.
Be sure to see your health care provider if:
Your health care provider will review your medical history and examine you. He or she may order x-rays. In certain situations a myelogram, CT scan, or MRI may be ordered.
The following are ways to treat low back pain:
When the pain subsides, ask your health care provider about starting an exercise program such as the following:
Exercise moderately every day, using stretching and warm-up exercises suggested by your provider or physical therapist.
Exercise vigorously for about 30 minutes two or three times a week by walking, swimming, using a stationary bicycle, or doing low-impact aerobics.
Participating regularly in an exercise program will not only help your back, it will also help keep you healthier overall.
The effects of back pain last as long as the cause exists or until your body recovers from the strain, usually a day or two but sometimes weeks.
In addition to the treatment described above, keep in mind these suggestions:
Pain is the best way to judge the pace you should set in increasing your activity and exercise. Minor discomfort, stiffness, soreness, and mild aches need not interfere with activity. However, limit your activities temporarily if:
Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities will be determined by how soon your back recovers, not by how many days or weeks it has been since your injury has occurred. In general, the longer you have symptoms before you start treatment, the longer it will take to get better. The goal of rehabilitation is to return you to your normal activities as soon as is safely possible. If you return too soon you may worsen your injury.
It is important that you have fully recovered from your low back pain before you return to any strenuous activity. You must be able to have the same range of motion that you had before your injury. You must be able to walk and twist without pain.
You can reduce the strain on your back by doing the following:
To rest your back, hold each of these positions for 5 minutes or longer:
Adult Health Advisor 2006.4; Copyright © 2006 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All Rights Reserved. Developed by Phyllis G. Cooper, RN, MN, and McKesson Provider Technologies. This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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