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THE FACTS ON LOWER BACK PAIN:

WHAT IS LOWER BACK PAIN?

Lower back pain is pain or discomfort in the lumbar region, which is the area of the back that sits below the rib cage. Pain in the lower back can range from mild discomfort to intense pain that interferes with sleep and daily activities. Lower back pain is very common, affecting most people at some point in life. It’s one of the most common reasons people miss work in the United States.

The symptoms of lower back pain can vary. Some people experience a persistent dull pain in the lower back, like a lower back ache. The discomfort might also feel like a sore lower back. Other types of back pain feel like a sharp, stabbing or shooting pain that comes on suddenly, often due to a specific movement like lifting a heavy object or bending over. Lower back pain may occur immediately following an accident or injury while working, performing daily tasks around the house or playing sports.

There are two types of lower back pain:

Acute — The most common type of lower back pain, acute pain is short-term pain that may last a few days to a few weeks.

Chronic — Lower back pain lasting longer than three months is considered chronic.

Lower back pain may be accompanied by stiffness and reduced range of motion. It can also be difficult to stand up straight. Muscle spasms are common with lower back pain that’s caused by a strain.

WHAT CAUSES LOWER BACK PAIN?

There are a number of lower back pain causes:

Mechanical low back pain — Lower back pain often stems from undiagnosed causes that are simply referred to as “mechanical” low back pain. The pain can occur due to overuse, extended activity and overall wear and tear on the ligaments and tendons that support the lower back. Lack of strength in the abdominal muscles plays a major role in the development of mechanical low back pain as weak abdominal muscles cause the lower back muscles to compensate in order to support the lower back. This can cause the lower back muscles to be become overworked.

Injuries  One common reasons for back pain is an injury. Sprains can occur when ligaments become overstretched or tear. This can happen during an accident, while playing sports or when lifting heavy objects. Muscle strains can also cause lower back pain.

Spinal disc issues  Lower back pain can occur due to issues with spinal discs, which are the rubbery pads found between the vertebrae (the bones that comprise the spinal column). Spinal discs help cushion and absorb shock.

  • A herniated disc (also known as a slipped disc, protruding disc, bulging disc or ruptured disc) occurs when the jelly-like center of the disc pushes through the exterior portion. This causes pressure that can lead to lower back pain.
  • Degenerative disc disease can also cause lower back pain when the discs become damaged or break down due to wear and tear over the years.

Spinal stenosis — Commonly caused by wear and tear, spinal stenosis occurs when the spaces in the spine narrow, putting pressure on the nerves of the spinal cord. In addition to lower back pain, this condition can cause pain and numbness in the legs.

Arthritis in the spine  Certain types of arthritis can affect the spine. Spinal arthritis is most commonly associated with osteoarthritis, which occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of the bones wears down. This can lead to pain and stiffness in the lower back.

Sciatica  Usually only affecting one side of the body, sciatica is pain from the sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down through the hips, buttocks and legs. The leg on the affected side may experience numbness.

Lower back pain can also occur due to lifestyle factors:

Poor posture  Slouching can cause certain muscles in the lower back to become overworked, contributing to lower back pain. This can occur while standing or sitting. It’s common for office workers to experience lower back pain after sitting all day in an uncomfortable chair with no lumbar support.

Standing for long periods — Hours of standing, especially on hard surfaces, puts pressure on lower back.

Being overweight  Every pound of excess body weight puts stress on the lower back, increasing the chances of pain.

Improper shoes  Wearing shoes that don’t have enough cushioning and support to absorb shock can contribute to lower back pain.

HOW TO HELP PREVENT LOWER BACK PAIN?

Since common everyday habits and lifestyle factors are a major cause of lower back pain, behavioral adjustments can often help. These include:

Exercise  Physical activity is important for maintaining good health and reducing lower back pain. Regular exercise helps build strong muscles and promote a healthy weight. Strengthening exercises for the back and abdominal muscles help support the spine, reducing pressure and the risk of pain.

Avoid lifting  It’s best to avoid lifting heavy objects when possible. When you have to, lift with the legs and bend at the knee. Keep the back straight and resist the urge to bend over.

Good quality shoes  Wear shoes that have good cushioning to absorb shock that can lead to lower back pain.

Orthotics and insoles  Reinforce your shoes with orthotics and insoles. Dr. Scholl’s® Pain Relief Orthotics for Lower Back Pain absorb shock and stabilize the body to help prevent excess movement that can trigger lower back pain. Dr. Scholl’s® Stabilizing Support Insoles help improve posture and balance to minimize stress on the lower back. Dr. Scholl’s® Extra Support Orthotics are designed specifically for plus-sized women who tend to experience lower back pain from being on their feet.

Proper posture  When seated, sit up straight and avoid slouching. Choose a chair with good lumbar support and change positions regularly. Avoid standing for long periods and when you do, always stand up straight.

HOW TO RELIEVE LOWER BACK PAIN?

Minor back pain often improves with home remedies, including:

Ice and heat  Hot and cold therapy can be helpful for lower back pain. You can alternate icing with a heating pad.

Exercises for lower back pain  Many people experience relief with the help of strengthening exercises and stretches for lower back pain. A physical therapist can help with an exercise program.

Massage — Therapeutic massage may be helpful for minor lower back pain. It may take a bit of effort to find the right therapist and type of massage that’s most effective.

OTC pain relievers — Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen, naproxen and aspirin can help reduce lower back pain. There are also topical rubs that can provide relief.

See your doctor if your lower back pain is due to an injury, is severe or if it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, numbness and loss of bladder or bowel control. If your lower back pain persists despite trying home remedies, see your doctor for an evaluation. In some cases, lower back pain may require prescription treatment or surgery.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How to relieve lower back pain

It’s important to see a doctor for an evaluation and guidance on how to treat lower back pain. However, recent NIH survey data indicates that approximately 80% of lower back pain can be attributed to pain caused through daily activities called “mechanical issues”. There are a number of lifestyle changes and over-the-counter treatments that can help to alleviate lower back pain including:

Regular activity – People with back pain often shy away from physical activity not realizing that exercise can actually help with both pain and range of motion. A physical therapist can recommend an exercise plan to reduce pain while minimizing stress on the back. Low impact sports like cycling, walking and swimming can be especially beneficial for lower back pain.

Weight loss – If you’re overweight, it can be helpful to drop some pounds as this can help lessen the pressure on the lower back. Even a small amount of weight loss can help lower back pain.

Orthotics and Insoles – Wearing good supportive shoes along with orthotics or insoles can help improve alignment and absorb shock, helping to reduce lower back pain.

Cold and heat therapy – Using ice, a heating pad, or a combination of the two can help to ease lower back pain.

OTC NSAIDs – Over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) may be recommended by your healthcare provider in order to reduce pain and swelling.

Topical rubs – Products containing ingredients like lidocaine, salicylates, capsaicin, menthol, and diclofenac sodium (Voltaren) can provide immediate relief when applied directly to the lower back area.

It can take a lot of time and effort to get rid of lower back pain. If you don’t get relief after trying these methods, ask your doctor what to do for lower back pain. In cases of more severe lower back pain, your doctor may prescribe or recommend stronger medications and treatments.

How to sleep with lower back pain

If you have lower back pain, it may be easier on the back to sleep either on your side or face-up. To relieve lower back pain while sleeping, you can try putting a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your side or under your knees if you sleep face-up. This can help reduce pressure on the lower back. You can also try putting a small pillow or a towel under your lower back when sleeping face-up.

Is lower back pain a sign of pregnancy?

Lower back pain is not a sign of pregnancy. It is the result of added weight bearing during pregnancy causing overpronation that can lead to experiencing lower back pain. This is contrary to prior thought where low back pain during pregnancy was caused by Lordosis, or an over backward leaning of the body to balance the weight of the developing child.

It’s possible for lower back pain to be a sign of pregnancy. Most commonly, lower back pain develops later in the pregnancy, starting at month five. However, the pain can begin earlier, as early as eight weeks.

What can cause lower back pain in a women?

There are several potential causes of lower back pain that are specific to women. These include:

  • Pregnancy – During pregnancy a woman’s body goes through a number of changes. Weight gain along with hormonal and structural changes can increase the risk of lower back pain.
  • PMS – Premenstrual syndrome can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms including lower back pain.
  • Menstruation – Some women experience lower back pain during their periods.

What organs can cause lower back pain?

Health issues related to specific internal organs of the body can lead to lower back pain. These organs include the kidneys, uterus, colon and pancreas. Lower back pain may be caused by a number of issues related to specific organs, including inflammation and infection. If you have lower back pain that you suspect is linked to an issue with an internal organ, it’s important to see your healthcare provider in order to determine the underlying cause.

Can constipation cause lower back pain?

Yes, in some cases constipation can cause lower back pain. When stool backs up, it can create pressure which can lead to lower back pain.

Is walking good for lower back pain?

Yes, walking can help improve lower back pain. Low impact activities like walking can help reduce pain and stiffness in the lower back.

What is the best medicine for lower back pain?

There is no best medicine for lower back pain since what helps lower back pain in one individual might not be as effective for someone else. Before taking medication for lower back pain, it’s important to ask your healthcare provider for guidance.

There are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve) that are available over-the-counter. Your healthcare provider may recommend these medications as a first step to address your lower back pain. There are also over-the-counter topical products that may be helpful for lower back pain. These products contain ingredients like salicylates, menthol, lidocaine, capsaicin and diclofenac sodium (Voltaren).

For pain that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter remedies, doctors may recommend stronger treatments such as prescription-strength pain killers and anti-inflammatory medications.

Can gas cause lower back pain?

Yes, gas can cause lower back pain in some cases. Excess gas can cause bloating and this can put pressure on the lower back, resulting in pain.

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