Low Back Pain

What is low back pain?

Low back pain is pain and stiffness in the lower back. It is one of the most common reasons people miss work.

How does it occur?

Your lower back is called your lumbar spine. It is made up of 5 bones called lumbar vertebrae. In between the vertebrae are shock absorbers called disks. Back pain can occur from an injury to the vertebrae or when a disk bulges or herniates.

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 or strained, the spine loses its stability, resulting in pain.

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, trouble moving your legs, or numbness or tingling in your arms or legs requires immediate medical treatment.

What are the symptoms?

  • pain in the back or legs  

  • stiffness, spasm, or limited motion  

The pain may be constant or may happen only in certain positions. It may get worse when you cough, sneeze, bend, twist, or strain during a bowel movement. The pain may be 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 Reddy Urgent Care healthcare provider if:

  • You have weakness in your leg, especially if you cannot lift your foot, because this may be a sign of nerve damage.  

  • You have new bowel or bladder problems as well as back pain, which may be a sign of severe injury to your spinal cord.  

  • You have pain that gets worse despite treatment.  

How is it diagnosed?

Your Reddy Urgent Care healthcare provider will review your medical history and examine you. You may have X-rays, an MRI, CT scan, or a bone scan.

How is it treated?

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables, wrapped in a cloth on the area every 3 to 4 hours, for up to 20 minutes at a time for the first 2 or 3 days.  

  • Use a heating pad or hot water bottle. Don’t let the heating pad get too hot, and don’t fall asleep with it. You could get a burn.  

  • Rest in bed on a firm mattress. Often it helps to lie on your back with your knees raised on a pillow. However, some people prefer to lie on their side with their knees bent. It’s best to try to stay active, so try not to rest in bed longer than 1 to 2 days.  

  • Take muscle relaxants as recommended by your healthcare provider.  

  • Take an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, or other medicine as directed by your provider. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take for more than 10 days.  

  • Get a back massage by a trained person.  

  • Wear a belt or corset to support your back.  

  • Do the exercises recommended by your provider. Your provider may also prescribe physical therapy.  

  • Talk with a counselor, if your back pain is related to tension caused by emotional problems.  

When the pain is gone, ask your healthcare 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 3 times a week by walking, swimming, using a stationary bicycle, or doing low-impact aerobics.  

Exercising regularly will not only help your back, it will also help keep you healthier overall.

How long will the effects last?

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.

How can I take care of myself?

In addition to the treatment described above, keep in mind these suggestions:

  • Practice good posture. Stand with your head up, shoulders straight, chest forward, weight balanced evenly on both feet, and pelvis tucked in.  

  • Lose weight if you are overweight  

  • Keep your core muscles strong. These are your abdominal and back muscles.  

  • Sleep without a pillow under your head.  

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, your Reddy Urgent Care provider may want you to limit your activities temporarily if:

  • Your symptoms return.  

  • The pain increases when you are more active.  

  • The pain increases within 24 hours after a new or higher level of activity.  

When can I return to my normal activities?

Everyone recovers from an injury at a different rate. Return to your activities depends on 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 is to return 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.

What can I do to help prevent low back pain?

You can reduce the strain on your back by doing the following:

  • Don’t push with your arms when you move a heavy object. Turn around and push backwards so the strain is taken by your legs.  

  • Whenever you sit, sit in a straight-backed chair and hold your spine against the back of the chair.  

  • Bend your knees and hips and keep your back straight when you lift a heavy object.  

  • Avoid lifting heavy objects higher than your waist.  

  • Hold packages you carry close to your body, with your arms bent.  

  • Use a footrest for one foot when you stand or sit in one spot for a long time. This keeps your back straight.  

  • Bend your knees when you bend over.  

  • Sit close to the pedals when you drive and use your seat belt and a hard backrest or pillow.  

  • Lie on your side with your knees bent when you sleep or rest. It may help to put a pillow between your knees.  

  • Put a pillow under your knees when you sleep on your back.  

  • Raise the foot of the bed 8 inches to discourage sleeping on your stomach unless you have other problems that require that you keep your head elevated.  

To rest your back, hold each of these positions for 5 minutes or longer:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, and put pillows under your knees.  

  • Lie on your back on the floor with a pillow under your neck. Bend your knees to a 90-degree angle, and put your lower legs and feet on a chair.  

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees, and bring one knee up to your chest and hold it there. Repeat with the other knee, then bring both knees to your chest. When holding your knee to your chest, grab your thigh rather than your lower leg to avoid over flexing your knee.