Lower back pain is a common symptom many of us will experience. Continue reading below to learn the differences between acute and chronic back pain, as well as prevention tips and treatment options.
About 80% of us will experience lower back pain at some point in our lives. Fortunately, lower back pain (LBP) usually gets better on its own. However, for some it may become an annoying recurring condition.
Lower back pain is not a diagnosis, it’s a symptom. We can’t always determine the underlying medical cause of lower back pain, but we can try to identify as much as possible about the root issues.
Acute Lower Back Pain
LBP typically gets better in a few days or weeks. We call these cases acute LBP. The causes of acute LBP are usually difficult to identify. The cause is often ‘strain’ or ‘sprain,’ meaning muscle or ligament-related pain. It is usually not necessary to find the root cause since it goes away in a matter of days to weeks.
Chronic Lower Back Pain
When LBP lasts longer than three months, it’s chronic lower back pain (CLBP). Causes of CLBP are difficult to identify. However, we should always try to find the causes.
The careful process of finding the cause can help assure that there isn’t a life-threatening condition and eliminate concerns about paralysis or becoming wheelchair bound.
You may be asked to provide a complete patient history. A physical examination and, when appropriate, imaging tests such as MRI or CT scan, may be conducted as well. These specialized tests can help physicians find the causes of chronic LBP.
Research continues to give us a better understanding of CLBP. Genetics may play a major role as an underlying cause. So, choose your parents carefully!
Preventing Lower Back Pain
You can reduce the chances that you experience lower back pain by making these positive lifestyle changes.
- Eat healthfully so you keep your body weight within a healthy range.
- Get regular exercise to keep your back muscles fit and flexible.
- Avoid prolonged sitting.
- When you do sit, maintain good posture.
- Use proper techniques for lifting (lift with your legs rather than your back).
- Avoid frequent bending and twisting. Especially avoid bending, twisting and lifting at the same time (like shoveling snow).
- Avoid situations where your spine is vibrated for long periods of time.
- Get enough sleep each day.
- Stop smoking.
- If you have depression and/or anxiety, visit with your health care clinician about ways to manage it.
Ask your health care professional for guidance about steps we’ve mentioned for preventing lower back pain.
When Should You See a Health Care Professional?
If you have back pain that doesn’t improve within about six weeks, see your health care clinician or a back specialist.
See a clinician immediately if:
- The pain becomes intolerable.
- You develop leg numbness or weakness.
- You have difficulty controlling bladder or bowel.
Treating Lower Back Pain
If you suffer from lower back pain, treatment may include:
- Chiropractic care.
- Massage therapy.
- Physical therapy.
- Injections of pain medication or a special bone lubricant.