Back Pain 101

back pain 101

Do you suffer from pain in your lower back?

Pain in the lower back region is among the most common medical conditions among men and women in the US.

Sometimes, it’s a temporary issue because you slept in an uncomfortable position or overdid it at the gym. But, on the other hand, it may be an existing medical condition or connected to the type of work you do.

But what is back pain, what causes it, and what can you do to kill the pain?

Here’s the 101. 

What Are The Symptoms of Back Pain?

back pain symptoms

Pain and soreness in the lower back region are the primary symptoms. But there are some other signs and types of pain associated with back problems. For example, there are various kinds of back pain, including: 

  • Pulsating: With this type of back pain, you feel “throbbing” pain regarded as continuous beats or pulsations. 
  • Acute Pain: With acute back pain is intense and comes on suddenly. Some people also refer to this type of pain as “shooting” pain. 
  • Tingling: Although not strictly pain, “tingling” and numbness often go hand in hand with back pain. For you, there may also be a burning sensation. For many of the patients we see, all these sensations are just as uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing as the pain itself. 
  • Tenderness: When you apply even slight pressure on the lower back region, you may feel additional pain due to tenderness. 
  • An unpleasant, dull pain: The pain is bearable enough to continue with your daily routine, but there is discomfort.  

Other Symptoms of Back Pain:

  • Muscle spasms: When you feel muscular contractions and pain in the lower back, it could be due to spasms. 
  • Pressure: Some patients report feeling like someone is permanently applying pressure on their lower back that feels like a type of gripping sensation. 

Apart from the pain and the other symptoms listed above. Your pain may radiate from one part of your back to another, and specific physical positions might increase or lessen your pain.

Perhaps it’s worse when you’re lying down, or it gets worse when you get up and move around? It’s different for everyone. 

When to See A Doctor For Lower Back Pain

back pain restricting movement

In certain circumstances, you may also experience other symptoms in addition to lower back pain. If you have had pain that hasn’t subsided for a couple of weeks and despite bed rest, the pain continues, and you have any of the following symptoms, you should consult your doctor to get a complete evaluation of your lower back and the associated symptoms:

  • Irregular bowel movements or loss of control 
  • Constant fever accompanied by weight loss
  • Bowel incontinence with painful urination 
  • Inflammation in the lower back region
  • Feeling numbness in the buttocks, anus, or genitals 
  • Tingling or numbness in both legs
  • Pain that travels downwards from the lower back to below the knees and impairs movement
  • There is steady weight loss with continuous pain.
  • In the case of an accident or trauma to the lower back area, there may be bladder or bowel issues and fever. 

If you have standalone back pain without any of the above symptoms, we recommend an appointment with a physical therapist in the first instance. We can refer you to the right people if we can’t treat your specific symptoms. 

What Causes Acute Lower Back Pain?

back pain caused by walking upstairs

Acute lower back pain tends to only last for a short period – either a few days or weeks. It comes on suddenly out of the blue or directly from an accident or blunt force trauma.

But in most cases, acute pain is because of a ligament sprain or muscle strain. For both conditions, the symptoms and treatment are similar.

In the case of a strain, the connective tissues that connect to the bones or muscles are injured. When there is a sprain, the tissues that connect the muscle groups in the back have suffered damage. 

What Are The Leading Causes Of A Back Strain or Sprain?

leading causes of back pain

The leading causes of a back strain or sprain are:

  • You maintain a weak or poor posture in your daily life – like slouching over your desk or having your computer at an ergonomically unhelpful height. 
  • Any traumatic injury due to an accident, fall, or sports activity.
  • Carrying heavy weights or shopping bags in the incorrect posture.

While the pain can be intense, strains or sprains generally do not lead to serious injury. However, getting adequate bed rest and consulting with a physical therapist helps you recover quicker and prevent further damage. 

What are the symptoms of a muscle strain or sprain in the lower back?

  • Tenderness or pain in a specific area
  • Redness, bruising, or inflammation
  • Muscle weakness
  • Difficulty bending, twisting, or straightening up your back
  • Muscle spasms

What Causes Chronic Back Pain?

spine pain in people with bad posture

We describe it as “chronic” lower back pain when the pain in your lower back continues for more than 12 weeks.

This type of chronic, unrelenting pain can prevent you from carrying out your daily routine and affect your quality of life. 

Some of the leading causes of chronic lower back pain include:

  • Medical conditions that lead to curvature of the spine like kyphosis or scoliosis. Spinal stenosis too causes the intervening space between the nerves and spinal bones to narrow. 
  • Fibromyalgia – thought to be connected to physical trauma or a viral infection can indirectly cause lower back pain due to lack of good quality sleep. The tell-tale Fibromyalgia tender points are also sometimes in the lower back. 
  • Osteoporosis leads to the weakening of the bones, which can ultimately lead to lower back pain when the bones start to deteriorate. 
  • Having a ruptured or herniated disc leads to pressure on the nerves in the spinal cord.
  • Having any kind of arthritis like rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis

If you have chronic back pain, a physical therapist can help you find the root cause. We can also recommend a treatment plan and teach you a set of therapeutic exercises and stretches to reduce the pain and improve your mobility. 

In some cases – to make an accurate diagnosis, we may recommend imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, or an MRI.

If we suspect that an underlying medical condition like osteoporosis or arthritis may be causing your symptoms, we may also suggest that we order a blood test or bone density scan.

How To Treat Lower Back Pain

seeking help for back pain

The solution to lower back pain depends on what’s causing it. In cases where it is because of overactivity, then rest combined with pain-relieving medication and hot and cold compresses may be sufficient for you.

However, if it occurs due to an existing medical condition, your doctor will treat the underlying cause.  

Some of the standard treatment strategies for lower back pain are:

  • Medications: In most cases, if you visit a family physician with lower back pain, they will prescribe a short course of drugs like painkillers or anti-inflammatory pills. If your pain doesn’t subside, they may suggest more potent pain pills, opioids, muscle relaxants, or anti-anxiety medicines. 

However, we don’t recommend this course of treatment for long periods due to the long-term health consequences of pain medication.

We would always recommend that you visit a physical therapist first, as we may be able to help you avoid pain medication altogether. 

  • Injections: If your pain is severe and affects your mobility, your doctor might also recommend injections. These may include the administration of cortisone in the legs alongside injections to numb the pain felt in the spinal or epidural region. While this does provide a certain amount of relief, it is usually only a temporary solution, with the pain returning full force after a month or two. So again, we would recommend physical therapy first. 
  • Surgery: In severe lower back pain cases where conventional treatments have not proven effective in remedying the situation, surgery might be recommended as a last resort. This option is only the case when all other possible solutions have been exhausted.  

But far and away, the most effective treatment for back pain is, of course, physical therapy. It is non-invasive and side-effect-free and guaranteed to reduce (if not sure) your pain and improve your mobility so that you can get your life back.

Moreover, a professional and licensed physical therapist with expert knowledge in the anatomy and physiology of the lower back and surrounding muscles and joints will treat you on a one-to-one basis.

As a result, we help strengthen your back muscles, reduce pain, improve your posture, and help you prevent future problems. 

Would you like to book a free appointment? Book now. 

Andrew Vertson