Low back pain is pain in the area between the lower ribs and the buttocks. The pain can be very severe, especially while moving, and may radiate to the buttocks, legs and thighs. People who suffer from low back pain often have stiff parts of the spine and permanent strain on the muscles of the back too. This leads to pain and tightness in the movement of the entire spine.
Low back pain rarely has a serious cause. Usually, the exact cause is not known. Only in a few percent of cases, there is a specific condition like a herniated disc. Low back pain may occur, for example, by overloading the back, a wrong movement, heavy and wrong lifting, being exposed to whole-body vibration, poor physical condition, a long-term twisted posture, overweight or too heavy breasts. The condition is also more common during pregnancy.
A combination of physical load with psychosocial factors (for example a high work rate, mental stress and anxiety) may have an adverse effect on back pain. Some people with back pain are afraid of the pain and thus start to move less, while this has the opposite effect. Poor exercise leads to weak muscles and actually increases the risk of pain.
The signs and symptoms of low back pain vary from mild to severe pain in the lower back, to intense and painful muscle contractions. These can significantly disturb the correct posture and mobility of the patient. The pain can be both acute and chronic. Sometimes, acute low back pain turns into a chronic pain.
Low back pain suddenly comes and makes forward and backward bending, leaning, lifting heavy stuff and sitting still extremely difficult and painful. The pain is most severe when the patient suddenly moves. When he or she walks around or stands straight, the symptoms diminish significantly.
Low back pain is often accompanied by severe muscle contractions, causing the patient to have a stiff back. Sometimes, the back skews due to severe muscle aches and spasms and a change occurs in body posture.
In some cases, low back pain radiates to the rest of the back, loins, buttocks or legs. The patient then experiences a tingling sensation or total numbness. If the pain radiates further, then we don’t speak of low back pain, but sciatica.
In case of low back pain, the doctor first wants to exclude a serious cause, such as damage or defect. He does this by asking questions and performing a physical examination. The doctor may also do various tests, such as the straight leg raise.
Making X-rays or MRI scans don’t make sense in case of low back pain. There is usually no connection between any defects that can be seen on the images and whether or not having back problems.
An obvious method of combating low back pain is, of course, using ordinary painkillers. Muscle relaxants or opioid painkillers can be prescribed in case of severe pain. Medications can help to get through the worst pain, but won’t solve the problem.
For a person who has just gotten back pain, it’s important to alternate rest with sufficient effort and activity. Bed rest is not recommended. Research has shown that bed rest even works counterproductive, because the muscles get weakened. Relaxing is good, but don’t stay in bed for more than three days.
In case of low back pain, physical therapy and Cesar/Mensendieck practice therapy can be applied. It has been shown that they can have a beneficial effect on the symptoms.
The prognosis of low back pain is favorable: half of the patients recover within a week and ninety-five percent within three months. Back problems are, however, characterized in that they often come back again. In fifty to eighty percent of the cases, the symptoms recur in the same year again.
- It’s wise not to load the back in a wrong way. People who aren’t used to lifting, should better not suddenly start lifting something heavy. Heavy objects can often be divided into lighter portions or may be transported on a trolley. Never lift anything that’s actually too heavy.
- There are many treatments offered, but that doesn’t mean that they actually help. In any case, it has not yet been demonstrated by research which treatment is effective in case of acute low back pain. Yet some people still want a treatment and it may be that they experience benefit.
- The term ‘lumbago’ is derived from the Latin word lumbus (loin) and the Greek word algos (pain).
- The prevalence of low back pain is 3.6%.
- Of Western population, 60 to 90% has low back pain at least once in life.
- Men and women are at almost equal risk of having this condition.
- Low back pain is more common with increasing age and is most common in people aged 45 to 64 years, but less common at old age.