Causes of low back pain
Low back pain is a common occurrence these days and over 80% of people experience at least one episode of low back pain in their lifetime.
In the majority of cases, there is no apparent underlying cause. However, in some cases, the pain can be attributed to a medical condition or disease. Common causes include:
- Degenerative disc disease: Normal wear and tear can lead to degenerative disc disease over time due to the formation of small cracks and tears and/or the loss of fluid in the spinal discs. This can result in changes to the adjacent spinal vertebrae, including the development of bone spurs.
- Bulging and herniated disc: Excessive wear and tear on spinal discs can result in disc bulges, where the outer covering weakens, and the disc protrudes. Some people may experience pain that radiates down the back of the leg when the bulging disc compresses a nerve. This condition is known as sciatica.
- Lumbar spinal stenosis: This is a condition where the vertebral canal, the open space inside the vertebrae, becomes narrowed.
- Osteoarthritis: This condition can affect the facet joints (joints that connect the spinal vertebrae).
- Ankylosing spondylitis: This condition is a type of arthritis that causes inflammation in the spine and other parts of your body. Over time, it can cause stiffness due to inflammation in the joints and tissues of the spine. In severe cases, this may lead to vertebrae fusion that can result in a rigid and inflexible spine.
- Spondylolisthesis: This is a condition where one of the lower spine vertebrae "slips" forward relative to another.
- Occupational back pain: Poor posture while standing or sitting at work, driving long distances and improper lifting techniques can result in low back pain.
When to visit a doctor for lower back pain
Although back pain does not typically indicate a serious medical condition and typically resolves on its own fairly quickly without treatment, it can be bothersome when it interferes with daily activities.
You should visit an orthopaedic specialist if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Prolonged back pain for more than 4 weeks
- Severe pain that does not improve with rest
- If pain radiates down the back of your leg
- Weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs
- Back pain with unexplained fever or weight loss
- Back pain due to falls, mainly if you are older than 50 years
- New back pain if you are 70 years or older
Diagnosis of lower back pain
Your doctor would first question your general health and symptoms before conducting a thorough physical examination. Diagnosis is made based on your reported symptoms, physical examination, and investigations.
Most individuals with low back pain recover within a few weeks without the need for imaging tests. Therefore, imaging tests are not routinely done for all patients with low back pain.
In certain circumstances, imaging tests such as X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be recommended if there are the following situations:
- Patient is experiencing low back pain that persists for more than four to six weeks and the cause is unknown.
- There are risk factors or signs of infection or malignancy.
- Surgery is being considered.
Treatment options for lower back pain
Treatment option will depend on your symptoms and the severity of your condition. Treatment aims to relieve your symptoms, enable you to carry out your regular activities, and prevent further complications. Here are some recommended measures that may help reduce lower back pain.
Staying active as much as possible is good for your back because movement helps relieve pain while preventing loss of muscle strength. If your back pain is severe, you may need to rest for a day or two. However, prolonged bed rest is not recommended.
Heat and medication for pain relief
A heated wrap or heating pad may help with back pain.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen are prescribed to reduce pain and swelling. Muscle relaxants such as cyclobenzaprine may help relieve back pain. As they can cause drowsiness, they are to be taken during bedtime.
Physiotherapy with individualised exercise program that includes stretching, flexion, extension and strengthening may be beneficial.
Changes to work and lifestyle
It may be necessary to take time off work to recover if you are unable to sit or stand comfortably at your job.
Lifestyle changes such as weight loss, stress reduction, the use of back support devices, and increasing physical activities are a few ways that can improve your lower back pain issues.
Surgery is only recommended or considered in those with persistent radiculopathy due to spinal stenosis or herniated disc that have not responded to other therapies.
Lower back pain prevention
Always use the right approach when performing certain activities such as the following:
Book an appointment at Gleneagles Hospitals
The caring and multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals are available for consultation and to provide the best care. Get in touch with us to book an appointment with an Orthopaedic specialist at Gleneagles Hospital today.
- OrthoInfo: Low Back Pain. Available at: https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/low-back-pain/ [Accessed 10 January 2023]
- Chou R. Patient education: Low back pain in adults (Beyond the Basics). Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate Inc. Available at: https://www.uptodate.com/contents/low-back-pain-in-adults-beyond-the-basics#H16 [Accessed 22 April 2023]