FEATURE — If you have had lower back pain, you are not alone. At any given time, about 25 percent of people in the United States report having low back pain within the past three months, and 80 percent of people will have low back pain at some point in their lives.
Now for the good and bad news: The good news is that most cases of low back pain resolve within a few weeks on their own; the bad news is that low back pain can and often does return like a bad penny and can progressively worsen over time.
The symptoms of lower back pain vary a great deal. Your pain might be dull, burning or sharp. You might feel it at a single point or over a broad area. Sometimes, it might spread into one or both legs. The one thing all low back pain has in common is misery.
There are three different types of low back pain:
- Acute – pain lasting less than 3 months.
- Recurrent – acute symptoms come back.
- Chronic – pain lasting longer than 3 months.
Often, low back pain occurs due to overuse, strain or injury. It could be caused by frequent or strenuous bending, twisting and lifting. Too much sitting can also be a contributing factor. Low back pain can come on all at once or gradually over time. Sometimes, the actual cause of low back pain isn’t always readily apparent.
Although low back pain is rarely serious or life-threatening, if you ever have low back pain accompanied by loss of bowel or bladder control or numbness in the groin or inner thigh, seek medical attention immediately. It might indicate a serious condition called “cauda equina syndrome” at which the nerves at the end of the spinal cord are being squeezed.
There are several conditions that may contribute to low back pain; these can include degenerative disc disease, lumbar spinal stenosis, herniated disks, osteoarthritis and fractures.
In chronic and recurrent cases, X-rays and other imaging diagnostic tests such as an MRI may be done to determine the cause of your back pain. Because not all low back pain is the same, treatment should be tailored to your specific symptoms and conditions. Often a visit to your primary care provider is a good starting point. In some cases, the primary provider may refer you to a physical therapist for evaluation and treatment.
As experts in restoring and improving mobility and movement in people’s lives, physical therapists play an important role not only in treating persistent or recurrent low back pain but also in preventing it and reducing your risk for having it come back, again, like a bad penny.
Here are a few simple tips to help prevent low back pain:
- Participate in regular strengthening and stretching exercises to keep your back, stomach and leg muscles strong and flexible.
- Keep your body in alignment so that it can be more efficient when you move.
- Keep good posture; don’t slouch.
- Use good body positioning at work, home and during leisure activities.
- Keep your spine straight and the load close to your body during lifting.
- Ask for help before lifting heavy objects.
- Maintain a regular physical fitness regimen; staying active goes long ways in preventing many types of injuries, including low back pain.
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Written by Darren Marchant.
Darren Marchant is a licensed physical therapist and CEO and founder of Fit Physical Therapy with clinics in St. George and in Mesquite and Overton, Nevada. He is board certified as an orthopedic clinical specialist. For other helpful articles or clinic information visit fit-pt.com.