Surprising facts about lower back pain

Lower back pain is something that virtually all adults can relate to and more than 80 per cent of adults will experience lower back pain at some point during their lives.

Back pain

Back pain

Frustratingly, the vast majority of people suffering from low back pain will not be able to identify why they have back pain. For up to 10 pre cent of suffers, their low back pain will last up to six months.

One certainty about low back pain is that it is both common and complex. Low back pain is one of the most common reasons people seek medical treatment. The severity of low back pain is usually unrelated to the actual degree of physical damage. A jamming of the lumbar joints with muscle spasm can cause low back pain so extreme that it can make it difficult to even stand. By comparison a severely degenerated disc can be completely painless.

While there are many possible causes of low back pain, there are certain structures in the spine that are more likely to cause low back pain.

The large nerve roots in the low back that go to the legs may be irritated; the smaller nerves that innervate the spine in the low back may be irritated; the large lower back muscles on either side of the spine may be strained; the bones, ligaments or joints may be damaged; or the intervertebral disc may be damaged.

Thankfully, the vast majority of lower back conditions will get better with time and will respond to non-surgical treatments such as chiropractic adjustments, stretches, exercise, ice-therapy, acupuncture, massage or various other physical therapies.

Most episodes of low back pain are caused by damage to the joints, muscles, and/or ligaments in the low back. Even though a lumbar spine sprain or a low back muscle strain doesn’t sound like a serious injury, they are the cause of many emergency room visits each year.

A muscle strain has occurred when the muscle is over-stretched or torn, resulting in damage to the muscle fibres. A lumbar sprain happens when ligaments are stretched too far or torn. Ligaments are very tough, fibrous connecting tissues that connect the muscles to the bones and joints.

As a general rule, people who are active and well-conditioned are much less likely to suffer from low back pain due to muscle strain, as regular exercise keeps the joints mobile and stretches the muscles.

X-rays are usually not helpful in diagnosing low back pain, or deciding upon the best course of treatment. Do not be surprised if your health provider does not immediately suggest X-rays as part of your treatment. Through their examination, your health provider will attempt to rule out the possibility of cancer, fracture or advanced degeneration. Therefore X-rays will not provide much more useful clinical information in most cases.

The pain may force you to rest, but bed-rest is not a good treatment for back pain. If you are forced to take to your bed, limit the bed rest to a day or two. Many studies have shown that bed rest may make back pain worse. Bed rest can even lead to other problems such as depression, loss of muscle tone, and blood clots in the legs.

Those elastic belts that are so popular around construction sites and large stores to prevent low back pain remain controversial. A large study of persons who lift or move merchandise at work found no proof that the belts reduced back pain or prevented low back injury.

Finally, it is important to note attitude can have an effect on pain levels and duration. People who are depressed, under stress, or unhappy in their work are more likely to develop low back pain.

Studies have shown that bed rest may make back pain worse. Bed rest can even lead to other problems such as depression, loss of muscle tone, and blood clots in the legs.

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