You’re not alone if you experience some degree of low back pain, a common complaint that affects approximately 80 percent of all adults at some point. Pain can begin suddenly or worsen over time. Affecting men and women equally, low back pain has many potential causes and related symptoms. For this reason, treatment that’s highly personalized tends to be more effective, with results often ranging from complete relief of symptoms to sufficient management of pain to the point where quality of life is maintained.
Rarely related to a serious underlying condition, low back pain is frequently mechanical in nature. Mechanical low back pain is often caused by pressure placed on adjacent nerves when disc material protrudes or inflammation affects joints and muscles. Most low back pain is related to some type of age-related degeneration from normal wear and tear, referred to as spondylosis. Most acute low back pain results from muscle strain or tears that can result from overstretching or overusing muscles supporting the spine, poor posture, sports injuries, or improper lifting techniques. Potential sources of low back pain may also include:
- Disc herniation: Inner disc material is pressed outward.
- Radiculopathy: Pain from pressure on spinal nerve roots.
- Sciatica: Low back pain caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve.
- Spondylolisthesis: A vertebra slips out of place and pinches an adjacent nerve.
- Spinal stenosis: An abnormal narrowing of the spinal canal.
- Scoliosis: Abnormal curvature of the spine.
Symptoms associated with low back pain can be all over the map in terms of what you experience. Even if you have a curved spine or a narrow spinal canal in some areas, you may not experience any pain. It’s usually when discomfort becomes persistent and problematic that it’s time to seek treatment. Symptoms often associated with low back pain include:
- Dull or mild aches
- Sharp or acute pain
- Discomfort that gets progressively worse
- Pain aggravated by certain movements
- Numbness and tingling
Sometimes involving a functional capacity evaluation to assess your ability to function while performing various activities, diagnosis of low back pain is the first step in fine-tuning your treatment plan. Even if pain is considered chronic, having lasted 3-4 months or more, treatment attempts will likely be non-surgical. Some type of physical therapy is often recommended to strengthen muscles, although nutritional recommendations may also be given to encourage the incorporation of foods with natural anti-inflammatory properties into your diet. Treatment may also include:
- Pain medications
- Chiropractic manipulation
- Strengthening exercises
- Regenerative injection therapy
Whether there’s a clearly identified cause or not, many instances of low back pain can be sufficiently managed with a combination of treatments. Another important part of managing low back pain is taking steps to prevent it by modifying activities that trigger it and getting regular exercise to strengthen the bones, joints, and muscles supporting your spine.