(Sudden & Chronic) Lower Back Pain - Causes, Treatments, & When to See a Doctor
Young black man with back pain at home

Health 101

What You Should Know About Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is very common. At least 80 percent of Americans will experience some sort of lower back pain in their lifetime1.

The pain can appear suddenly or over time. It can range from a dull ache to powerful, sharp pain. Pain in your lower back usually starts after overuse or a minor injury, but sometimes there may be no known cause. It can also be a sign of an unknown medical condition.

 

Lower back pain is more common in individuals between the ages of 30 and 50. This is partly because of the changes that occur in the body when you age. For example, when you lose muscle, a back injury is more likely.

 

Read on to learn more about the causes and types of lower back pain, treatment options, and when you should see your doctor.

Causes and Types of Lower Back Pain

Most of the time, this type of back pain starts suddenly and lasts a few days to a few weeks. Back pain is often a sign that the parts of the back are not fitting together and moving normally. Some examples of lower back pain causes include:

 

  • Sprains and strains can occur from twisting or lifting something incorrectly, lifting something too heavy, or overstretching.
  • Disc degeneration is common in an aging person and is when our back discs lose their protective cushioning.
  • Disc injury can occur when the discs in our back are in the wrong position, leading to injury.
  • Sciatica is a shock-like pain or burning feeling down the butt and back of the leg. This is caused by pressure or injury to a nerve.
  • Traumatic injury to muscles and other parts of the body can lead to lower back pain. Examples of these kinds of injuries may include injury from sports, car accidents or falls.
  • Skeletal distortions when the spine curves in a direction or way that it shouldn’t or has other flaws.

 

Although it is rare, sometimes lower back pain can be caused by more serious issues like arthritis and osteoporosis. Other health issues like infections, tumors, or kidney stones can cause lower back pain and may need attention from your doctor.

 

Plus, factors such as age, fitness level, pregnancy, weight gain and genetics may increase your risk for lower back pain.

 

Treatment Options for Lower Back Pain

Sometimes there is not an obvious cause for your pain, and it often gets better on its own. There are some things you can do on your own to help your pain when it starts:

 

  • Stop your normal physical activities for a couple of days.
  • Switch between using ice and heat on your lower back to relax your muscles.
  • Try the RICE protocol — rest, ice, compression, and elevation.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
  • A warm bath or a massage can often relax back muscles.

 

If the pain doesn’t get better after three days of trying to treat it on your own, you should call your doctor. Your doctor may want to learn about your health history and have a check-up with you to identify the cause of your pain.

 

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor for serious lower back pain that does not seem to be getting better. Or if you are experiencing pain with other symptoms like tingling or numbness down the legs. You should seek immediate medical attention if you have pain in your lower back and have:

 

  • Difficulty walking or moving the legs
  • Loss of bowel or bladder function
  • Loss of sensation in the legs
  • Very severe pain

 

A doctor can help you find the cause of your pain and help to make it feel better. Your doctor may suggest medicine, physical therapy or surgery for serious cases. Other treatment options may include exercise, massage and acupuncture, among other things. Surgery is usually only an option when all other treatments fail.

  1. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325381.php
  2. https://www.healthline.com/health/low-back-pain-acute
  3. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/patient-caregiver-education/fact-sheets/low-back-pain-fact-sheet#3102_3

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