But how can you tell? It can be tricky. This is a concise, readable guide to symptoms that need better-safe-than-sorry investigation with your doctor. (It’s basically just a plain English version of clinical guidelines for doctors.9) In other words, this article explains the difference between “dangerous” and “just painful” as clearly as possible. Tables, checklists, and examples ahead.
There are a number of ways to classify low back pain with no consensus that any one method is best. There are three general types of low back pain by cause: mechanical back pain (including nonspecific musculoskeletal strains, herniated discs, compressed nerve roots, degenerative discs or joint disease, and broken vertebra), non-mechanical back pain (tumors, inflammatory conditions such as spondyloarthritis, and infections), and referred pain from internal organs (gallbladder disease, kidney stones, kidney infections, and aortic aneurysm, among others). Mechanical or musculoskeletal problems underlie most cases (around 90% or more), and of those, most (around 75%) do not have a specific cause identified, but are thought to be due to muscle strain or injury to ligaments. Rarely, complaints of low back pain result from systemic or psychological problems, such as fibromyalgia and somatoform disorders.
In addition to these exercises, there are simple things you can do every day to help reduce your risk of hip flexor pain. If you sit at a desk for long periods of time, try to get up and move around every hour or so. Warm up properly before any physical activity, and stretch regularly at the end of each workout. Your hips will thank you for it!
Arthritis. Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are among the most common causes of hip pain, especially in older adults. Arthritis leads to inflammation of the hip joint and the breakdown of the cartilage that cushions your hip bones. The pain gradually gets worse. People with arthritis also feel stiffness and have reduced range of motion in the hip.
Epidural steroid injections are most commonly used in situations of radicular pain, which is a radiating pain that is transmitted away from the spine by an irritated spinal nerve. Irritation of a spinal nerve in the low back (lumbar radiculopathy) causes pain that goes down the leg. Epidural injections are also used to treat nerve compression in the neck (cervical spine), referred to as cervical radiculopathy, which causes pain.
Grade III (severe): A complete tear in your muscle that causes severe pain and swelling and you can't bear weight on that leg, making it difficult to walk. You've also lost more than 50 percent of your muscle function. These injuries are less common and may need surgery to repair the torn muscle. They can take several months or more to completely heal.
It’s a common issue, says Prevention advisor Rob Danoff, director of family and emergency medicine residency programs at Aria Health in Philadelphia. "For people who sit a long time at work, the hip flexors and rotators become tight, and the gluteal muscles become weak," he says. "This combination negatively affects our ability to walk, maintain proper posture, and the stability of our spine."
In addition to strengthening the core muscles, it's also important to address any mobility problems, says Jacque Crockford, M.S., C.S.C.S., exercise physiology content manager at American Council on Exercise, which can sometimes be what's causing pain. If specific movements like twisting or bending or extending your spine feel uncomfortable, there may be mobility (flexibility) issues at play. Doing some gentle stretching (like these yoga poses) might help. (If it gets worse with those stretches, stop and see a doctor.)
First and foremost, stop slouching. One of the most common causes of low back pain is poor sitting posture. The strain on the back while sitting in a slouched position can cause excessive pressure on the joints, muscles, and discs, causing pain. Learn to sit with correct posture and maintain that posture at all times to help decrease or eliminate your low back pain. Also be sure your workspace is set up properly at home and at work.
The hip is a common site of osteoarthritis. To help protect the hip joint from "wear and tear," it is important to strengthen the muscles that support it. Your hip also controls the position of your knee, and strengthening your hips may be one component of your rehab program for knee pain. Your physical therapist may also prescribe hip exercises after total hip replacement if you have a hip labrum tear or as part of your hip exercise program for hip pain.
Management of low back pain depends on which of the three general categories is the cause: mechanical problems, non-mechanical problems, or referred pain. For acute pain that is causing only mild to moderate problems, the goals are to restore normal function, return the individual to work, and minimize pain. The condition is normally not serious, resolves without much being done, and recovery is helped by attempting to return to normal activities as soon as possible within the limits of pain. Providing individuals with coping skills through reassurance of these facts is useful in speeding recovery. For those with sub-chronic or chronic low back pain, multidisciplinary treatment programs may help. Initial management with non–medication based treatments is recommended, with NSAIDs used if these are not sufficiently effective.
Long periods of inactivity in bed are no longer recommended, as this treatment may actually slow recovery. Spinal manipulation for periods of up to one month has been found to be helpful in some patients who do not have signs of nerve irritation. Future injury is avoided by using back-protection techniques during activities and support devices as needed at home or work.
Some of these red flags are much less red than others, especially depending on the circumstances. For instance, “weight loss” is common and often the sign of successful diet! (Well, at least temporarily successful, anyway. 😃) Obviously, if you know of a harmless reason why you have a red flag symptom, it isn’t really a red flag (duh!). But every single actual red flag — in combination with severe low back pain that’s been going on for several weeks — is definitely a good reason to get yourself checked out.