Low back pain is a common condition, affecting up to 80 percent of American adults at some time in their lives. Since there are many common causes of back pain, people of all ages are susceptible to symptoms like muscle spasms, back tension, and inflammation. To learn more about lower back pain and how it can affect you, read this low back pain fact sheet.
This guide includes what you need to know about the possible reasons for your discomfort or swelling. You will also learn how to treat your symptoms. With information in mind about the latest therapies and how to choose from pain prevention technologies such as LED vs. laser, you can take steps to care for your back or make an appointment with your doctor.
Anatomy of the Lower Back
The lower back is made up of five vertebrae, which are referred to as L1–L5. They reside within the lumbar region, which supports the weight of your upper body. There are small spaces within each vertebra, which include flexible, cushion-like pads known as spinal discs. Intervertebral spinal discs act as shock absorbers for the spine and lower back. They also help to cushion your bones as you walk, bend, and twist.
The spinal ligaments hold each vertebra in place, while tendons are responsible for keeping your back muscles attached to your spine. Your lower back also includes over 31 pairs of nerves, which help to transmit signals from your brain to different parts of your body. If one of these systems is disturbed, you may experience lumbar area pain or irritation. It is also possible to have swelling or inflammation in the muscles of your lower back. Knowing the most common causes of back pain can help you to determine what kind of treatment or care you require.
Causes of Lower Back Pain
Some of the causes of lower back pain are related to the effects of aging. Others are due to an injury, overuse, or a health condition. Here are some of the possible reasons why you are experiencing discomfort in your lumbar region:
- Sprains and strains: Muscle strains and ligament sprains are some of the most common reasons for back pain. They may occur after a sports injury, car accident, or fall. It is also possible to suffer these ailments from repetitive motion or lifting a heavy object.
- Herniated discs: Bulging or ruptured discs can occur due to an injury, repetitive movements, or the effects of aging. Some people will not experience any back pain. Others will feel discomfort if a herniated disc presses on a nerve in the spine. A physical exam combined with spine x-rays can help your doctor determine if you have this condition.
- Osteoporosis: This bone disease occurs when the body loses too much bone or makes too little bone naturally. While it affects both men and women, white and Asian women are at the highest risk. Osteoporosis also disproportionately impacts older women who are past the menopause stage. When the bones become porous and brittle, they can develop painful fractures. It is also possible to experience muscle and ligament pain from the weak bones in your lower back. Seeing your doctor for annual exams can help you to prevent osteoporosis and, if found, treat it as soon as possible.
- Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis (OA) is a common form of degenerative arthritis. It affects areas of the body, such as the hips, knees, and lower back. Some cases of arthritis in the spine can lead to a condition called spinal stenosis, which can lead to pain, numbness, and weakness in the back and legs. If you have a diagnosis of OA, it is essential to keep your appointments with your doctor.
Other reasons for lower back pain include skeletal irregularities, sciatica, and spinal cord infections. You can also experience discomfort from hormone changes, pregnancy, and stress. Symptoms can also occur from poor posture, being overweight, or not exercising enough. Please pay attention to signs of back problems and when they occur. This approach can help you decide whether your pain is acute or chronic and whether you need rest or another solution.
This guide does not provide an exhaustive list of conditions that lead to lower back pain. There may be other causes that lead to inflammation, swelling, or back discomfort. If you experience sudden pain or pain that is accompanied by fever, get emergency care. Any questions about your back pain symptoms should be discussed with your doctor.
Diagnosing Lower Back Pain
Call your primary care provider or a spine specialist to schedule an appointment. When you visit your doctor, they will need your complete medical history and will conduct a physical exam. They will also want to know if you have suffered any recent injuries, were in a car accident, or had a surgical procedure on your back. Bring a list of any prescription medications or over-the-counter medicines you are taking. Since some causes of lower back pain are difficult to determine through a physical evaluation, your doctor may also recommend neurological exams or imaging tests.
Your physician may order a blood test, bone scan, or computerized tomography (CT) scan. You may also receive x-ray imaging or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). When your provider receives the test results, they will review them along with your medical history. They will then give you a diagnosis, which will help in formulating a customized treatment plan.
Treatments for Lower Back Pain
The treatment you receive for your lower back pain will depend on your condition, medical history, and any back injuries you have. Your doctor will also likely try the most conservative treatments first, such as over-the-counter medications, rest, or stretching. Some other standard therapies for lower back discomfort also include exercise, heat therapy, and ice therapy.
If you need prescription-strength relief after surgery or an injury, your doctor may give you muscle relaxants, prescription non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or a form of topical pain relief. Opioids are only to be used for a short time under a physician’s supervision, as they can cause health problems, addiction, and a host of side effects.
One of the most innovative treatments available for lower back pain is photobiomodulation therapy (PBMT), formerly often referred to as low level laser therapy (LLLT). This solution helps to reduce pain, inflammation, and swelling in the lower back without the use of drugs or invasive procedures. With a Curavi™ laser light therapy belt, you will temporarily relieve lower back pain associated with mild to moderate aches, muscle spasms, and inflammation. Wear it for just 30 minutes a day to see results and find temporary relief for your back discomfort.