Pain in the lower back, also known as lumbago, is a common condition that affects people of all ages. Although it is commonly known to affect elderly people, more than 80 percent of adults will experience this condition at some point in their lives and it accounts for the majority of sick days. The pain can be felt anywhere along the spine, from the hips up to the neck. Lumbago is a common musculoskeletal disorder that makes everyday activities difficult.
It is very important for you to know the basic signs and symptoms of lumbago. The signs include:
- Pain in the lumbar area of the spine. The pain often accompanied by muscle tension, lower back stiffness. In severe cases, your mobility may be compromised.
- The pain is confined to a small area (localized).
- Restricted movement of the spine, such as when you try to lean backward or bend over.
- Pain in the lower portion of the back that can spread out to the buttock, groin, or the back of the thigh. If you experience this pain along with a tingling feeling radiating down the leg to the front, this condition is also known as sciatica.
- Inflammation or swelling of the back.
- Lower back pain when you cough or sneeze.
If the symptoms persist or worsen, you need to know the warning signs. Seek medical help immediately if you experience back pain with some or all of the following symptoms below.
- Urinary retention (the need to go to the toilet but find it difficult to actually pee)
- Tingling or numbness around the buttocks or genitals
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Numbness in the saddle area
- Pins and needles in both legs
- Chest pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- High-temperature 38C or above
- The back pain is worse at night
- A deformity or swelling in the back
- The back pain started after a serious accident.
Even after medical tests, the cause of lumbago can be hard to pinpoint. In most cases, it is caused by nothing serious and the pain will subside over time. There are several factors that can cause lumbago, but the main cause is the overuse of your lower back or sudden lifting of a heavy object. Excessive bending and other repetitive motions involving the lower back can also result in lumbago. Other causes may be associated with other medical problems, such as osteoarthritis, spinal arthritis, herniated disc, spinal stenosis, osteoporosis, scoliosis, as well as malignant or benign spinal tumors. Sometimes, being seated for an extended period of time can also cause lumbago.
Treatment for lumbago depends on different factors, such as your age, weight, and activity level. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for lumbago. A doctor may have two patients with the same MRI scan or x-ray but they have different symptoms. However, there are ways you can manage your lower back pain, particularly when they’re acute, including:
- Stay as active as you can. Even when your back pain makes daily activities limited, you need to continue your daily activities within the limits of your pain. Staying active helps keep the muscles that support your spine strong as well as preventing scar tissue from forming, this causes stiffness. Resting for long periods is going to make the pain worse.
- Try exercises and stretches for back pain. Activities like walking, swimming, doing yoga, and pilates can be helpful to improve your condition. Some yoga poses are proven to relieve back pain.
- Use pain killers. Anti-inflammatory medication or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and muscle relaxants may help relieve modern pain. Some people also take paracetamol or a combination of codeine painkillers. If you go to your doctor, your GP may prescribe diazepam to relax your muscles.
- Use heat. Try a hot pack, a hot water bottle, heat creams or go swimming in a warm pool to ease the pain.
- Use cold compression packs. This can be a short-term relief for you. You can buy them in your local pharmacy or use a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth.
- Get some rest. Although you have to stay as active as possible, it doesn’t mean you have to push yourself. Sleep for 8 hours every night, it will help repair and rebalance your body both mentally and physically and try to sleep on a firm and flat surface.
- Get a massage. Getting regular massage therapy can provide healing and relieve the pain from muscle strain or tension.
- Practice good posture. Avoid bending, stooping, lifting, and sitting on low chairs. If your job causes you to experience back and neck pain, request an ergonomic assessment of your workstation.
- Stay positive. The effect of lumbago is not only physical but also psychological. However, it is important to bear in mind that back pain is rarely caused by a serious illness and it often settles down within a few weeks. Also, people who stay positive despite their pain usually recover quicker.
If your pain doesn’t improve with self-help measures alone or the symptoms persist for more than three months, you probably have chronic lower back pain. When this happens, make sure you consult your GP, who will suggest a type of scan, such as an X-ray. The treatment options for people with persistent lower back pain may include:
- Back exercises. You can have a structured exercise program where you’re taught exercises to improve your posture and strengthen your muscles. The program is tailored to your special case.
- Manual therapy. This includes several treatments, including manipulating the spine or massage. The therapy is usually carried out by chiropractors, physiotherapists, and osteopaths.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture is known to be a safe and natural way to treat back pain. It has very minimal side effects.
- Psychological support. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can be useful to help you cope with the pain.
In some rare cases, surgery is considered to be the right treatment. However, it is usually performed if the lumbago is caused by a specific condition.