Low back pain varies from mild to severe pain or discomfort in the lower back. The pain can be acute (sudden and severe) or chronic if it has lasted more than three months.
What causes low back pain?
The human back is composed of a complex structure of muscles, ligaments, tendons, disks and bones – the segments of our spine are cushioned with cartilage-like pads. Problems with any of these components can lead to back pain.
- Muscle or ligament strain: Strain of back may cause painful muscle spasms of lower back.
- Structural problems: Bulging disks, arthritis, abnormal curvature of the spine and osteoporosis are some of the abnormalities that result into pressure to the spine causing back pain
- Poor body mechanics: Bending awkwardly, lifting a heavy load poorly, poor sitting posture for long periods commonly lead to low back pain.
- Infection of the spine: Commonly from infection of other body parts.
- Female reproductive system infections: Women may have acute low back pain following medical conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, endometriosis, ovarian cysts, ovarian cancer, or uterine fibroids
Some of the risk factors include overweight, sedentary lifestyle, pregnancy, strenuous physical or mental work and smoking.
Treatment options for back pain
- Home remedies
Pain can usually be addressed with over-the-counter painkillers e.g. paracetamol and ibuprofen.
Resting is helpful, but should not usually last more than a couple of days.
A heating pad, ice pack applied on the back or warm baths may provide temporary pain relief.
Continue with daily activities as much as tolerated, but stop any activities that increase pain.
- Physical therapy and exercise (physiotherapy)
A physiotherapist can apply treatments, such as heat, electrical stimulation and muscle-release techniques, to your back muscles and soft tissues to reduce pain.
If mild to moderate back pain doesn’t get better with over-the-counter pain relievers, your doctor may prescribe appropriate treatment, some of which (Muscle relaxants) can cause dizziness and may make you very sleepy.
- Epidural Steroid Injections
The steroids do not heal the components of the back, but often provide enough pain relief to allow movement, exercise, and healing.
Surgery usually is reserved for pain related to structural anatomical problems that haven’t responded to intensive conservative therapy measures.
Prevention of back pain
- Posture when sitting
When seated, keep the knees and hips at level and feet flat on the floor. Be upright, preferably with support to the lower back. When using a keyboard, the elbows should be at right-angles and the forearms horizontal. Do not bend the back for long periods. Avoid sitting for long continuous periods; take regular brief breaks to stretch.
Regular exercise helps build strength as well as keep body weight down. Start with light exercise and increase gradually. Select an interesting exercise to enjoy. A specialist may assist.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Being overweight puts a strain on your back muscles. If you’re overweight, trimming down can prevent back pain.
- Be careful how you lift
Don’t bend over from the waist to lift heavy objects. Bend your knees and squat, pulling in your stomach muscles and holding the object close to your body as you stand up. Don’t twist your body while lifting. If you can, push rather than pull heavy objects. Pushing is easier on the back.
- Avoid high heels
They can shift your center of gravity and strain your lower back. Stick to a one-inch heel. If you have to go higher, bring along a pair of low-heeled shoes just in case you become uncomfortable.
It is important to have proper support for your back. Make sure the side mirrors are properly positioned so you do not need to twist. The pedals should be squarely in front of your feet. If you are on a long journey, have plenty of breaks.
- Your bed
You should have a mattress that keeps you spine straight, while at the same time supporting the weight of your shoulders and buttocks.
- If you smoke, stop
Smoking restricts the flow of nutrient-containing blood to spinal discs, so smokers are especially vulnerable to back pain.
For specific management of your back problem, kindly consult your doctor.