The lower back is an extremely common area in which adults experience pain. This area of the back is known as the lumbar spine and supports most of the upper body’s weight, so it makes sense that it would be susceptible to damage and discomfort over time. Up to 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives, and this type of pain is the number one cause of job-related disability. Since lower back pain it is so widespread, there is an abundance of knowledge about what causes it and how it can be treated. Here’s what you’ll need to know about understanding lower back pain.
There are a number of causes of lower back pain, but these are some of the most common.
Muscle or ligament sprains or strains are some of the most common causes of lower back pain, and they account for the most cases of acute back pain. A sprain occurs when a muscle or ligament is overstretched, and a strain occurs when a muscle or tendon experiences a tear. These types of injuries can arise from the improper usage of muscles (such as improperly lifting something heavy) or simply twisting and turning the wrong way. If left untreated, these injuries will worsen and can end up being increasingly debilitating even if they started small.
When a disc in the back becomes herniated, matter from the inner layer of the disc leaks into the surrounding area. When this happens, nerves are pinched, which leads to pain and discomfort. This is essentially an outward-bulging of the disc. When a disc ruptures, it can no longer cushion and stabilize the spine in that specific area. This forces surrounding muscles and ligaments to overcompensate for that loss, leading to pain and numbness.
Sciatica is a form of radiculopathy (irritation or injury to a nerve root) caused by compression of the sciatic nerve. Compression of this nerve causes signals to be interrupted and will result in pain that travels down the back, buttocks, and leg. This pain is often sharp, shock-like, and burning, and can also be accompanied by numbness and muscle weakness in severe cases.
To help ease pain and reduce inflammation, heat and ice treatments can be very effective. Heat (such as heat from a bath or a heating pad) helps relax muscles and improves blood flow. This aids in healing the affected muscles in the lower back. When lower back pain is caused by some type of inflammation, cold therapy is the way to go. Ice or cold packs can be used to reduce swelling in the affected area by shutting down capillaries and reducing blood flow. Even when there is no lower back injury present, alternating treatments of heat and ice after exercise can be very beneficial to muscle health.
In many cases of lower back pain, physical therapy and exercises can be an effective way to treat the issue. Physical therapy programs that are designed according to a patient’s specific needs can help strengthen core muscle groups in the lower back, as well as improve mobility and flexibility. Treatment will depend on the cause of the pain, but physical therapists can teach stretches and exercises that will make the pain much more manageable, and even correct the issue wherever possible. There are also other physical therapy methods (such as electrical stimulation or active release therapy) that can be used if the cause of the pain is severe.
Lower back pain can be very disruptive to everyday life. It can make simple tasks feel much harder, and no one should have to live each day in pain. If you are experiencing lower back pain, our team at IMPACT Physical Therapy would love to help. Our focus is on physical therapy, recovery, and fitness, and we deliver the most progressive treatment and best care possible. We offer a number of specialty services within our three areas of treatment, and we will focus on choosing the method that works best for you. Contact us today to schedule a free screening, and we will work with you to tackle your lower back pain!