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Lower Back Pain: Signs, Causes, and Relief

While 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, back pains causes can vary substantially despite the commonality of the condition. What’s more, back pain might not be cause by what you think.

Lower Back Pain: Signs, Causes, and Relief

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, lower back pain is the most common cause of job-related disability and a leading contributor to missed work days and about 80 percent of adults experiencing low back pain at some point in their lifetimes. 

In a large survey, more than a quarter of adults reported experiencing low back pain during the past 3 months!

But despite the commonality of the condition, the symptoms and triggers of lower back pain can vary substantially and from person-to-person. What’s more, back pain might not be cause by what you think.

Lower back pain is divided into acute and chronic back pain:

• Acute low back pain: pain that lasts between 4 to 12 weeks

• Chronic back pain: pain that persists for 12 weeks (3 months) or longer, even after an initial injury or underlying cause of acute low back pain has been treated. About 20 percent of people affected by acute low back pain will develop chronic low back pain with persistent symptoms at one year.

Symptoms of lower back pain include:

• A dull aching sensation contained in the lower back

• Muscle spasms

• Stabbing and shooting pain that may radiate down the leg

• Worsened pain following prolonged bouts of standing or sitting

• Aggravated pain when walking or standing straight

• Limited range of motion and flexion

Lower back pain may also be indicative of a serious medical condition. If back pain follows trauma, persists for more than two weeks, and/or is accompanied with the following symptoms, contact your doctor immediately.

• Unexplained weight loss

• Bowel or bladder changes

• Fever

• Numbness, weakness, and tingling in the leg(s)

• Throbbing sensation in the abdomen

There are more impacting and obvious causes of back pain, which are particularly are related to wear and tears of the muscles, joints, discs, and bones associated to the spine, which may be caused by tears, strains, and degenerative conditions.

Back pain may additionally be a consequence of pinched or compressed nerves, certain forms of cancer, arthritis, and conditions affecting the reproductive system. Lower back pain can also be caused by indirect influences, including the following:

• Work: Having a physically demanding job can start taking a toll on the back, especially if twisting and rotating motions are repetitive. On the opposing side, sitting all day in a chair with inadequate back support can likewise cause back pain.

• Stress: Psychological stress is much more than an emotional feeling, as it can transpire into physical pain. Stress manifests into lower back pain by causing tension in the muscles, which can lead to strain and spasms.

• Nutrient Deficiencies: While calcium and vitamin D are well-known for their prominent role in bone support, being deficient in the vitamin has been associated to worsened back pain. Imbalances in electrolytes, such as potassium and magnesium, can lead to muscle spasms, including of the back.

• Muscle Imbalances: Muscle imbalances can occur in numerous ways, including the way you sit, sleep, and carry things. School children are especially at risk, as their growing bodies can be impacted by a heavy-loaded backpack.

• Smoking: The consequences of smoking on the lungs, heart, and overall health are well-known. But smoking can also impact bone health and increase the risk of osteoporosis, Smoking reduces blood flow to the lower spine, which can contribute to spinal disc degeneration. Coughing due to heavy smoking may also cause back pain.

Whether it be work factors or a nutrient deficiency, everyday lifestyle habits and choices can obliquely impact the back and initiate pain and discomfort. That being said, and while treatment guidelines vary based on the core cause, it is important to manage underlying back pain causes rather than the related symptoms. Common and essential recommendations to keep a healthy back include:

• Weight Management: Carrying extra weight, especially in the abdomen, puts added strain on the back and may cause discomfort and pain. Maintaining a healthy weight can take added pressure off the back.

• A Balanced Diet: Consuming a balanced diet helps manage weight and ensure adequate nutrients, thus protecting from nutritional deficiencies. Ideally, a well-balanced eating pattern includes whole grains. Also limit anti-inflammatory foods, including refined sugars, flours, and oils, as they aggravate back pain.

• Exercise: Keeping active not only supports a healthy weight, but helps strengthen muscles. Partake in at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity weekly and incorporate resistance and flexibility training two to three times per week. Swimming, biking, and yoga are low-impact, gentle exercises to consider.

• Good Posture: Maintaining good posture helps keep joints and bones aligned, along with reducing stress on the ligaments and muscle strains. In addition to strengthening muscles, posture can be corrected with these tips provided by the American Chiropractic Association.

• Proper Lifting and Carrying: Whether moving boxes at home or shuttling equipment at work, it is important to practice safe proper lifting and carrying techniques. Also never hesitate to ask for help and consider using a back brace if needed.

• Smoke Cessation: Smoke cessation can help mitigate the impact of back pain. Besides, tobacco is identified as the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. so truly there really is no better time to quit! Not only are you benefiting the health of your own body to live longer, but likewise considering the health of others by reducing secondhand smoke.

• Sleep Position: Sleeping on the stomach can create lower back pain due to over curvature and bending of the back, which may compromise spinal alignment. Sleeping with the head facing straight and weight evenly distributed on the spine, neck and back can minimize pressure on the back.

Ultimately, it is important to seek out professional assistance when experiencing back pain. They will gather a detailed background investigating the lower back pain cause and severity, including when it started, what might improve or worsen the pain, and any additional symptoms. In addition to a physical exam, your doctor may order labs and imaging tests.

Following investigation, their medical expertise can further create a personalized plan to minimize back pain right at the core. Pain management techniques and treatment options include self-care, medication, physical therapy, surgery, and alternative therapy.

Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.