Lower back pain is one of the most common problems seen by health care providers. Most individuals will experience back pain that interferes with their normal daily activities, such as work or recreation, during their lifetime. Luckily, most episodes of back pain resolve within a few days.
Back pain can be considered acute or chronic depending on the duration. Acute lower back pain can last from days to weeks while chronic pain persists beyond 3 months. Chronic back pain often worsens over time, is related to many factors, and can be difficult to treat. The focus of this blog will be to discuss acute lower back pain which is often caused by injury or trauma. The article will discuss conservative management and when to see a health care provider.
Acute lower back pain is often caused by sudden injury or trauma which results in irritation of the muscles, ligaments, or nerves within the back. Often actions as simple as lifting heavy objects or twisting to the side can cause lower back pain. Learning proper body mechanics, such as maintaining a correct posture and lifting objects correctly, would prevent back pain for most individuals
Symptoms of lower back pain may range from muscle aches to a shooting or stabbing pain. Muscle spasms are often a common symptom. Individuals may also experience decreased back range of motion or flexibility. In some cases, individuals are unable to stand upright due to the pain. Some symptoms are considered “alarms” which if experienced individuals should promptly contact their health care provider. Symptoms that suggest a serious medical condition include back pain accompanied by leg weakness, leg numbness, fever, pain with coughing, or loss of bowel/bladder.
Most episodes of back pain resolve within a few days on its own. Sadly, for some people it can return and can be the most frustrating and bothersome problem to manage. Here are few tips that you can try to minimise your discomfort and prevent the back pain from becoming a long-term issue.
- Ice the area – Keep ice on the area for the first one or two days. Ice helps slow down inflammation that occurs after an injury. You may switch to heat after two days. Do not place heat or ice directly on your skin and do not keep it for more than 20 minutes at a time.
- Be active – Continue your normal activities such as walking and mild exercises, but don’t overdo it. Avoid sitting at a place for more than half an hour, get up and do some mild stretching.
- Make your workstation ergonomic – Use chairs that have proper back support. Avoid hunching forward often and keep both your feet firmly planted on the floor.
- Maintain good posture – Avoid stooping or bending over from your waist when lifting heavy objects. Lift with bent knees.
- Wear footwear with low heels – High heels threaten good posture and put more pressure on the lower spine.
- De-stress – Anxiety, stress and depression can worsen back pain. Engage in activities that keep you happy.
- Get enough sleep – Inadequate sleep can aggravate your back pain. Sleep plays a major role in healing your body and mind. Sleep on a mattress that provides good back support. Keep a pillow between your knees if sleeping on your sides. If sleeping on your back, keep a pillow under your knees. These measures help maintain neutral spine position.
- Quit smoking – Smokers are at a greater risk of developing bone problems that worsen back discomfort.
- Exercise – Once your back pain has subsided, perform exercises to strengthen your back muscles.
- Shed some weight – Being overweight can put excess pressure on your spine. Losing weight can help relieve your back pain.
There is often no single solution for back pain. You may need to explore and find out what works best for you, which often involves a process of trial and error. Making the above lifestyle changes can help most people recover from back pain. Alternatively, you may choose complementary therapies such as exercises, massage, yoga, biofeedback, acupuncture and chiropractic treatments that may offer some relief.
It is advised that you consult a qualified doctor if your back pain does not subside within 72 hours. Depending on your type of back pain, your doctor may recommend blood tests and/or imaging studies to identify the root cause of your pain. Depending on your specific condition, treatment options can include exercises, physical therapy, oral medications, injections or surgery.