Understanding Low Back Pain
Your "lumbar spine," or low back, is made up of five bones that are placed on top of each other and separated by a shock-absorbing disc. Your low back relies heavily on the muscles and ligaments that cover it for support. "Sprains" and "strains" are a direct result of these tissues being stretched too hard or too far, much in the same way that a rope frays when it is stretched beyond its normal capacity.
The term "sprain" means that the tough, durable ligaments that support bones have been damaged, while a "strain" refers to when your muscles or tendons that move your trunk have been partially torn.
It is very common to face back pain and the majority of people will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime, and 70% of those patients can attribute their symptoms to sprain/strain injuries. Sudden or forceful movements, such as a fall, twist, raise, push, pull, direct blow, or quickly straightening up from a sitting, crouched, or bent position, may cause lumbar sprains and strains. Most commonly, sprains and strains are not the result of any single event, but rather from repeated overloading.
Small isolated stressors are easily managed by the spine, but repetitive challenges can cause injury in the same way that repeatedly bending a piece of copper wire causes it to snap. Examples of stress that can cause lower back pain include bad postures, sedentary lifestyles, poor-fitting workstations, repetitive movements, improper lifting, or being overweight.
Symptoms from a sprain/strain can begin very abruptly but in most cases will actually develop gradually. Symptoms range from minor aches and pains to excruciating pain that worsens when you walk.
In certain cases, rest can help relieve the symptoms, but it can also cause stiffness. The pain is generally localized in your lower back but can also spread towards your hips or thighs. Always try to notify your doctor if your pain extends beyond your knee, or if you have weakness in your lower extremities or a fever.
Sprain/strain injuries can cause your normal healthy elastic tissue to be lost and replaced with less elastic "scar tissue." This can result in a never-ending period of pain and even arthritis. Patients who elect to forego treatment and "just deal with it" are known to develop chronic low back pain in 60% of cases. It is imperative to seek early and appropriate treatment like the type provided in our office is critical.
Bed rest is not in your best interest. You should only allow yourself to return to normal activities as your symptoms allow.
The use of a lumbar support belt for a short period of time can help to alleviate your symptoms. Sitting makes the back more susceptible to sprains or sprains caused by abrupt movements. It may be wise to take "micro-breaks" from workstations for 10 seconds every 20 minutes. Following acute injuries, you can apply ice for 15-20 minutes each hour. Heat may also be helpful after several days or for more chronic origins of pain. Be sure to inform your doctor of your exact situation and to ask for specific ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial relief from sports creams.