Low Back Pain
The lower back consists of cartilage and several bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments that correspond with the lumbar portion of the spinal cord. Lower back pain is typically the result of a problem with the tissues in this region, and is often related to age, weight and activity level/type. The lumbar spine is an area prone to great stress and injury.
Common causes of low back pain include:
- Herniated disc
- Spinal stenosis
- Osteoporosis/vertebral fracture
- Spinal deformity
Determining the onset, duration, location, radiation and characterizing the pain is very important to diagnosing low back pain. A physician may also order additional imaging studies such as x-ray, MRI, CT, ultrasound, bone scans and others to help elucidate the source of back pain.
The best treatment for lower back pain is often prevention; some simple guidelines to preventing low back pain include maintaining a healthy body weight and good posture, keeping a strong and flexible core through exercise and using proper form when lifting heavy objects.
In most cases, low back pain will resolve itself on its own within 4-6 weeks, and can be managed with simple conservative measures, including:
- Keeping physically active in a way that doesn’t exacerbate the pain
- Applying ice/heat
- Over-the-counter and prescription pain relievers
- Physical therapy, exercises and spinal manipulation
If conservative treatments fail to manage lower back pain, surgery may be an option. While some procedures can be done in an outpatient setting, many are invasive requiring extensive recovery time and may permanently reduce flexibility. Surgery may be required for more serious conditions.
- National Institutes of Health. (2003) Low Back Pain Fact Sheet. NINDS. Available at http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/backpain/detail_backpain.htm#167453102. NIH Publication No. 03-5161
- Evans, P.; McCamey, K. (2007) Low Back Pain. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice. Elsevier Saunders; MD Consult Web site.