What Causes Lower Back Pain? (And What To Do Next)
Everyone’s lower back pain is unique. Pain can come on suddenly or build over time, increase when sitting or lying down, or at other times it seems to follow you everywhere you go.
Regardless of your exact pain, everyone who suffers from lower back pain has one thing in common: you want it gone. And now. While most cases of low back muscle strain subside naturally within a couple of hours to a few days, if your pain has continued for more than a week or two, it’s time to seek medical attention.
First, let’s discuss the different types of lower back pain and the underlying causes.
The term sciatica describes leg pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness that starts off in your lower back and travels down the sciatic nerve in the back of each leg. Sciatica isn’t a medical diagnosis but is a symptom of an underlying medical condition.
You might be experiencing sciatica nerve pain if your pain is:
- In just one side of your buttock, or in one leg
- Worse when you’re sitting down
- Best described as burning, tingling vs. a dull ache
- Making it hard to move your leg, foot, and/or toes
Lower Spinal Disc Pain
Disc pain is most common in the lower back, where most spinal movement and weight-bearing activities occur. There are many different terms used to describe issues with a spinal disc and disc pain, including:
- Herniated, slipped, or bulging disc
- Pinched nerve
- Ruptured/torn disc
- Disc protrusion
There are also two ways a spinal disc can result in lower back pain:
- Disc pain. Sometimes the disc itself degenerates to the point of causing spinal segments to become unstable. This can result in chronic, low-level pain around the disc mixed in with bouts of more severe pain.
- Pinched nerve. Most of the time it’s not the disc itself causing lower back pain, it’s the material leaking out of the disc. This material pinches and irritates nerves in the area, producing sharp, shooting pains that radiate to other parts of the body.
Stiffness and lower back pain can often be traced back to spinal arthritis. This type of lower back pain moves in a distinct cycle throughout the day, such as:
- The lower back pain and stiffness are worst first thing in the morning.
- Over the course of the day, the pain becomes more tolerable.
- When evening comes, the pain and stiffness get worse.
- Pain that disrupts sleep is often an indicator of osteoarthritis.
There’s also localized tenderness when you press down on the affected area of the spine. You might also experience pinching, tingling, or numbness in the spinal cord, which happens when bone spurs form at the edge of the joints of the spine and irritate the nerves.
Pulled Lower Back Muscle
A pulled lower back muscle is the culprit in most episodes of lower back pain. It happens when the soft tissues supporting the lower spine, including muscles, tendons, and ligaments, become damaged. The pain usually comes on suddenly and can often be linked to a specific event or activity.
A pulled back muscle might sound like a minor injury, but the pain and muscle spasms that result can be severe. The soft tissues in your lower back help support the weight of the upper body. When they’re under too much stress, the low back muscles or soft tissues become injured.
Symptoms from a pulled lower back muscle include:
- Strained muscles that feel sore, tight, or achy.
- Pain that gets worse the more you move. You might also feel stiffness when you try to walk or stand.
- Pain concentrated in the lower back. Pain from a pulled muscle doesn’t travel to other parts of the body.
- Inflammation that feels tender to the touch.
- Temporary pain relief when you’re resting.
It’s not uncommon to experience occasional pain flare-ups for up to 4 to 6 weeks after the lower back injury.
Non-surgical Treatments for Lower Back Pain
Fortunately, there is a broad range of non-surgical treatment options available, each one with the goal of relieving pain caused by a compressed nerve root.
A few of the more common measures include:
- Apply ice – then heat if necessary. If you’ve had an injury (an acute event) or new pain, first try ice to reduce the inflammation. If the pain persists beyond 72 hours, then you may want to try heat or alternating cold and heat.
- Pain medications. Over-the-counter or prescription medications are often effective in reducing lower back pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or oral steroids can reduce the inflammation that is usually part of the cause of pain. Muscle relaxants or narcotics may also be prescribed for up to 2 weeks to help with the pain.
- Epidural steroid injections. When the pain is severe, an epidural steroid injection can also reduce inflammation. The injection goes directly into the painful area around the nerve.
Chiropractic Treatment for Lower Back Pain
You may have heard the term “subluxation” used by chiropractors to describe the abnormal position of the vertebra that causes discomfort or pain and can restrict movement. Chiropractors view subluxation – and your lower back pain – as a process, rather than a fixed condition.
Chiropractic treatment for lower back pain usually involves some type of manual therapy:
- Spinal manipulation and manual manipulation. Widely known as a chiropractic adjustment, gentle pressure is applied to the abnormal vertebra to help reduce nerve irritability and restore range of motion in the back.
- Mobilization refers to a lower-velocity manipulation that stretches the muscles and joints, increasing the range of motion.
A key part of any successful chiropractic treatment plan involves getting to know the patient and setting achievable goals. The treatment plan is built around the patient’s pain issues and stamina and includes exercise, activity modification and more, all working together to banish your lower back pain for good.
Hey, we get it. You’re experiencing lower back pain and are seeking answers as to what might be causing it. This article isn’t intended to provide diagnosis or treatment – there’s no substitute for professional consultation about your specific symptoms. Don’t let lower back pain keep you down any longer – schedule an appointment online or call us at 256-721-9696.