Increasing general physical activity has been recommended, but no clear relationship to pain or disability has been found when used for the treatment of an acute episode of pain. For acute pain, low- to moderate-quality evidence supports walking. Treatment according to McKenzie method is somewhat effective for recurrent acute low back pain, but its benefit in the short term does not appear significant. There is tentative evidence to support the use of heat therapy for acute and sub-chronic low back pain but little evidence for the use of either heat or cold therapy in chronic pain. Weak evidence suggests that back belts might decrease the number of missed workdays, but there is nothing to suggest that they will help with the pain. Ultrasound and shock wave therapies do not appear effective and therefore are not recommended. Lumbar traction lacks effectiveness as an intervention for radicular low back pain.
For the 31 million Americans who suffer from daily back pain, relief can be hard to find. In fact, back pain is the single leading cause of disability worldwide and the second most common reason for visits to the doctor. While it can be caused by many different things—extended periods of sitting or standing at work, bad posture, stress, an overly-strenuous workout or helping a friend move, to mention a few—once back pain hits, it can stick around for a long time. Your gut instinct might be to stay frozen until it goes away, but the best thing for your back is to keep it moving with gentle stretches. In fact, a regular routine of a few quick exercises can help you reduce your back pain without a trip to the doctor. Try to do the following exercises every morning and again at night.
Prior to doing this, warm up to avoid overstretching a cold muscle. Great ways to warm up include jumping jacks, skipping, side-stepping, running in place, or any dynamic movements that mimic whatever sport you do. Given that this targets the lower half of your body, it's best to choose movements that will make the muscles in the groin and inner thigh areas warm and pliable.
As the structure of the back is complex and the reporting of pain is subjective and affected by social factors, the diagnosis of low back pain is not straightforward. While most low back pain is caused by muscle and joint problems, this cause must be separated from neurological problems, spinal tumors, fracture of the spine, and infections, among others.
This stretch gets at the piriformis muscle of the hip flexor. Sit with both legs extended in front of you. Bend the right knee and place the right foot on the floor. Place your right hand behind you and hook your left elbow on the outside of the right knee. As you twist toward the righthand side, keep your spine straight and breathe deeply. Switch sides after about 20 seconds.
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Icing a joint that’s inflamed because of arthritis or bursitis can lower inflammation and help with hip pain. “If it’s very painful, I sometimes tell patients to ice four or five times daily for about 10 to 15 minutes,” says Amy Humphrey, DPT, a physical therapist at Body Dynamics, Inc. in Arlington, Va. Use an ice pack, wrap a towel around it, and put it where you feel the pain.
Avoiding injury to the low back is a method of preventing low back pain. Additionally, conditioning exercise programs designed to strengthen the lumbar area and adjacent tissues can help to minimize risk of injury to the low back. Specific programs to relieve and prevent back pain can be designed with the help of physical therapists and other treating health-care professionals.
Strong muscles support and protect your joints. “Strengthening the lower body takes some of the pressure off of the hip and knee joints,” says William Oswald, DPT, a physical therapist and clinical instructor of rehabilitation medicine at NYU Langone Health. This can relieve some of the pain and protect against more damage. “It can also make daily tasks, such as climbing the stairs, easier,” he says.
“Red flags” are signs or symptoms that something medically ominous may be going on. Red flags are not reliable, and their presence is not a diagnosis. When you have some red flags, it only indicates a need to look more closely. Sometimes red flags are missing there really is something serious going on … and sometimes they are a false alarm.18 Check off all that apply … hopefully none or few or only the least alarming of them!
Sciatica is a form of radiculopathy caused by compression of the sciatic nerve, the large nerve that travels through the buttocks and extends down the back of the leg. This compression causes shock-like or burning low back pain combined with pain through the buttocks and down one leg, occasionally reaching the foot. In the most extreme cases, when the nerve is pinched between the disc and the adjacent bone, the symptoms may involve not only pain, but numbness and muscle weakness in the leg because of interrupted nerve signaling. The condition may also be caused by a tumor or cyst that presses on the sciatic nerve or its roots.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) uses a magnetic force instead of radiation to create a computer-generated image. Unlike x-ray, which shows only bony structures, MRI scans also produce images of soft tissues such as muscles, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. An MRI may be ordered if a problem such as infection, tumor, inflammation, disc herniation or rupture, or pressure on a nerve is suspected. MRI is a noninvasive way to identify a condition requiring prompt surgical treatment. However, in most instances, unless there are “red flags” in the history or physical exam, an MRI scan is not necessary during the early phases of low back pain.
2016 — More editing, more! Added some better information about pain being a poor indicator, and the role of myofascial trigger points. This article has become extremely busy in the last couple months — about 4,000 readers per day, as described here — so I am really polishing it and making sure that it’s the best possible answer to people’s fears about back pain.
Most low back pain is acute, or short term, and lasts a few days to a few weeks. It tends to resolve on its own with self-care and there is no residual loss of function. The majority of acute low back pain is mechanical in nature, meaning that there is a disruption in the way the components of the back (the spine, muscle, intervertebral discs, and nerves) fit together and move.
Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, do not take an NSAID for more than 10 days.
^ Paige, Neil M.; Miake-Lye, Isomi M.; Booth, Marika Suttorp; Beroes, Jessica M.; Mardian, Aram S.; Dougherty, Paul; Branson, Richard; Tang, Baron; Morton, Sally C.; Shekelle, Paul G. (11 April 2017). "Association of Spinal Manipulative Therapy With Clinical Benefit and Harm for Acute Low Back Pain". JAMA. 317 (14): 1451–1460. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.3086. PMC 5470352. PMID 28399251.
Low back pain may be classified based on the signs and symptoms. Diffuse pain that does not change in response to particular movements, and is localized to the lower back without radiating beyond the buttocks, is classified as nonspecific, the most common classification. Pain that radiates down the leg below the knee, is located on one side (in the case of disc herniation), or is on both sides (in spinal stenosis), and changes in severity in response to certain positions or maneuvers is radicular, making up 7% of cases. Pain that is accompanied by red flags such as trauma, fever, a history of cancer or significant muscle weakness may indicate a more serious underlying problem and is classified as needing urgent or specialized attention.
Here is how you do the hip rotation stretch: Sit on the floor with your knee out straight. Cross one leg over the other by placing your ankle on top of your knee (as if crossing your legs while sitting). Gently pull your knee across your body, and hold for five seconds. Then gently push the knee of the top leg away from you until a stretch is felt in your hip. Hold this position for five seconds, then slowly release. Repeat 10 times.
Meanwhile, many non-dangerous problems can cause amazingly severe back pain. A muscle cramp is a good analogy — just think about how painful a Charley horse is! Regardless of what’s actually going on in there, muscle pain is probably the main thing that back pain patients are feeling. The phenomenon of trigger points — tiny muscle cramps, basically11 — could be the entire problem, or a complication that’s more painful and persistent than the original problem. It’s hard to overstate how painful trigger points can be, but they are not dangerous to anything but your comfort.
An intervertebral disc has a gelatinous core surrounded by a fibrous ring. When in its normal, uninjured state, most of the disc is not served by either the circulatory or nervous systems – blood and nerves only run to the outside of the disc. Specialized cells that can survive without direct blood supply are in the inside of the disc. Over time, the discs lose flexibility and the ability to absorb physical forces. This decreased ability to handle physical forces increases stresses on other parts of the spine, causing the ligaments of the spine to thicken and bony growths to develop on the vertebrae. As a result, there is less space through which the spinal cord and nerve roots may pass. When a disc degenerates as a result of injury or disease, the makeup of a disc changes: blood vessels and nerves may grow into its interior and/or herniated disc material can push directly on a nerve root. Any of these changes may result in back pain.
Treatment options include physical therapy, back exercises, weight reduction, steroid injections (epidural steroids), nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications, rehabilitation and limited activity. All of these treatment options are aimed at relieving the inflammation in the back and irritation of nerve roots. Physicians usually recommend four to six weeks of conservative therapy before considering surgery.