Radiculopathy is a condition caused by compression, inflammation and/or injury to a spinal nerve root. Pressure on the nerve root results in pain, numbness, or a tingling sensation that travels or radiates to other areas of the body that are served by that nerve. Radiculopathy may occur when spinal stenosis or a herniated or ruptured disc compresses the nerve root.
Exercise therapy is effective in decreasing pain and improving function for those with chronic low back pain. It also appears to reduce recurrence rates for as long as six months after the completion of program and improves long-term function. There is no evidence that one particular type of exercise therapy is more effective than another. The Alexander technique appears useful for chronic back pain, and there is tentative evidence to support the use of yoga. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) has not been found to be effective in chronic low back pain. Evidence for the use of shoe insoles as a treatment is inconclusive. Peripheral nerve stimulation, a minimally-invasive procedure, may be useful in cases of chronic low back pain that do not respond to other measures, although the evidence supporting it is not conclusive, and it is not effective for pain that radiates into the leg.
The magnitude of the burden from low back pain has grown worse in recent years. In 1990, a study ranking the most burdensome conditions in the U.S. in terms of mortality or poor health as a result of disease put low back pain in sixth place; in 2010, low back pain jumped to third place, with only ischemic heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease ranking higher.
To ease the pain and lower your odds of an injury, don’t try to do too much at once. “Start with just 10 minutes,” says Arina Garg, MD, a rheumatology fellow at The Center for Excellence for Arthritis and Rheumatology at the Louisiana University Health Sciences Center. “Every few days, increase that time by 5 to 10 minutes.” Your goal is to work up to 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, 5 days a week.
Biofeedback is used to treat many acute pain problems, most notably back pain and headache. The therapy involves the attachment of electrodes to the skin and the use of an electromyography machine that allows people to become aware of and selfregulate their breathing, muscle tension, heart rate, and skin temperature. People regulate their response to pain by using relaxation techniques. Biofeedback is often used in combination with other treatment methods, generally without side effects. Evidence is lacking that biofeedback provides a clear benefit for low back pain.
Arthritis: The spondyloarthropathies are inflammatory types of arthritis that can affect the lower back and sacroiliac joints. Examples of spondyloarthropathies include reactive arthritis (Reiter's disease), ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, and the arthritis of inflammatory bowel disease. Each of these diseases can lead to low back pain and stiffness, which is typically worse in the morning. These conditions usually begin in the second and third decades of life. They are treated with medications directed toward decreasing the inflammation. Newer biologic medications have been greatly successful in both quieting the disease and stopping its progression.
If the pain is still not managed adequately, short term use of opioids such as morphine may be useful. These medications carry a risk of addiction, may have negative interactions with other drugs, and have a greater risk of side effects, including dizziness, nausea, and constipation. The effect of long term use of opioids for lower back pain is unknown. Opioid treatment for chronic low back pain increases the risk for lifetime illicit drug use. Specialist groups advise against general long-term use of opioids for chronic low back pain. As of 2016, the CDC has released a guideline for prescribed opioid use in the management of chronic pain. It states that opioid use is not the preferred treatment when managing chronic pain due to the excessive risks involved. If prescribed, a person and their clinician should have a realistic plan to discontinue its use in the event that the risks outweigh the benefit.
There is controversy and scientific uncertainty about trigger points. It’s undeniable that mammals suffer from sensitive spots in our soft tissues … but their nature remains unclear, and the “tiny cramp” theory could be wrong. The tiny cramp theory is formally known as the “expanded integrated hypothesis,” and it has been prominently criticized by Quintner et al (and not many others). However, it’s the mostly widely accepted explanation for now. BACK TO TEXT
There are cases of low back pain that have alarming causes, but it’s rare. Once in a while back pain is a warning sign of cancer, autoimmune disease, infection, or a handful of other scary culprits.7 Over the age of 55, about one in twenty cases turns out to be a fracture, and one in a hundred is more ominous.8 The further you are from 55, the better your odds.
Many athletes-from the weekend warrior to the elite professional athlete-buck up their strength, pop some over-the-counter pain medication, and tolerate the pain for the sake of the game and personal enjoyment. But avoiding medical help can lead to further and more serious injury. Without medical help, the anatomic damage can sometimes lead to permanent exclusion from sporting activities.
Avoid stress: Sometimes the worst thing about pain is the stress it can cause. If you aren’t aching all over you can spend most of your time worrying the pain will return or, if you are already in pain, you can start to stress over how it is impacting your life. You really should try to avoid working yourself into a panic though – it really isn’t doing you any good.
So if you’re doing abs exercises and you feel like your hip flexors are putting in more work, refocus and dial in on the muscles you’re trying to target. It might sound trite to just “think” about a muscle working as you’re doing an exercise (for example, thinking about your abs contracting as you do a sit-up), but it might actually prevent you from mindlessly grinding out reps with poor form.
Why is back pain still a huge problem? Maybe this: “It is extremely difficult to alter the potentially disabling belief among the lay public that low back pain has a structural mechanical cause. An important reason for this is that this belief continues to be regularly reinforced by the conditions of care of a range of ‘hands-on’ providers, for whom idiosyncratic variations of that view are fundamental to their professional existence.”
It is sometimes hard for an aggressive athlete to consider changing training schedules. It is also hard to accept the fact that a serious disease may exist. All athletes who suffer from low back pain should seek medical advice. Some situations might require reducing or stopping athletic activity until the problem is resolved. The body's ability to be active is worth preserving.
Marvelously progressive, concise, and cogent guidelines for physicians on the treatment of low back pain. These guidelines almost entirely “get it right” in my opinion, and are completely consistent with recommendations I’ve been making for years on PainScience.com. They are particularly to be praised for strongly discouraging physicians from ordering imaging tests only “for patients with low back pain when severe or progressive neurologic deficits are present or when serious underlying conditions are suspected.”
Muscle Imbalances – The front of your hips, your hip flexors, are the muscles that will tighten and shorten while you are sitting for hours each day. While you are sitting, the back of your hips, your glutes and your hip extensors, are being overstretched. But just because they are being tightened and stretched respectively, doesn’t benefit either of them. They are also being weakened because of the lack of use of each muscle group.
3. Tendinitis and bursitis Many tendons around the hip connect the muscles to the joint. These tendons can easily become inflamed if you overuse them or participate in strenuous activities. One of the most common causes of tendinitis at the hip joint, especially in runners, is iliotibial band syndrome — the iliotibial band is the thick span of tissue that runs from the outer rim of your pelvis to the outside of your knee.
Cat-cow: Start on all fours, with palms and knees on the ground. Slowly arch your back, tilt your butt up and look up at the ceiling so you make a C curve with your torso. Return to the neutral starting position, then tilt your pelvis down and gaze at the floor near your feet, so your body reverses the C curve the other way. Return to neutral and repeat the series three times.
Yuri Elkaim is one of the world’s most trusted health and fitness experts. A former pro soccer player turned NYT bestselling author of The All-Day Energy Diet and The All-Day Fat Burning Diet, his clear, science-backed advice has transformed the lives of more than 500,000 men and women and he’s on a mission to help 100 million people by 2040. Read his inspiring story, “From Soccer to Bed to No Hair on My Head” that started it all.
Spinal fusion eliminates motion between vertebral segments. It is an option when motion is the source of pain. For example, your doctor may recommend spinal fusion if you have spinal instability, a curvature (scoliosis), or severe degeneration of one or more of your disks. The theory is that if the painful spine segments do not move, they should not hurt.
Swimming is a low impact form of exercise that can help to relieve the pressure on your joints. It’s thought that water aerobics may help to reduce the impact on your joints by up to 75%!2 Be careful though; start with a beginner’s class and always do only what you’re comfortable with – try to avoid over-exercising or pushing your muscles too far!
The medication typically recommended first are NSAIDs (though not aspirin) or skeletal muscle relaxants and these are enough for most people. Benefits with NSAIDs; however, is often small. High-quality reviews have found acetaminophen (paracetamol) to be no more effective than placebo at improving pain, quality of life, or function. NSAIDs are more effective for acute episodes than acetaminophen; however, they carry a greater risk of side effects including: kidney failure, stomach ulcers and possibly heart problems. Thus, NSAIDs are a second choice to acetaminophen, recommended only when the pain is not handled by the latter. NSAIDs are available in several different classes; there is no evidence to support the use of COX-2 inhibitors over any other class of NSAIDs with respect to benefits. With respect to safety naproxen may be best. Muscle relaxants may be beneficial.
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.
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.
The lower back where most back pain occurs includes the five vertebrae (referred to as L1-L5) in the lumbar region, which supports much of the weight of the upper body. The spaces between the vertebrae are maintained by round, rubbery pads called intervertebral discs that act like shock absorbers throughout the spinal column to cushion the bones as the body moves. Bands of tissue known as ligaments hold the vertebrae in place, and tendons attach the muscles to the spinal column. Thirty-one pairs of nerves are rooted to the spinal cord and they control body movements and transmit signals from the body to the brain.
The discs are pads that serve as "cushions" between the individual vertebral bodies. They help to minimize the impact of stress forces on the spinal column. Each disc is designed like a jelly donut with a central, softer component (nucleus pulposus) and a surrounding, firm outer ring (annulus fibrosus). The central portion of the disc is capable of rupturing (herniating as in a herniated disc) through the outer ring, causing irritation of adjacent nervous tissue and sciatica as described below. Ligaments are strong fibrous soft tissues that firmly attach bones to bones. Ligaments attach each of the vertebrae to each other and surround each of the discs.
Traction involves the use of weights and pulleys to apply constant or intermittent force to gradually “pull” the skeletal structure into better alignment. Some people experience pain relief while in traction, but that relief is usually temporary. Once traction is released the back pain tends to return. There is no evidence that traction provides any longterm benefits for people with low back pain.
Bleeding in the pelvis is rare without significant trauma and is usually seen in patients who are taking blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin). In these patients, a rapid-onset sciatica pain can be a sign of bleeding in the back of the pelvis and abdomen that is compressing the spinal nerves as they exit to the lower extremities. Infection of the pelvis is infrequent but can be a complication of conditions such as diverticulosis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, pelvic inflammatory disease with infection of the Fallopian tubes or uterus, and even appendicitis. Pelvic infection is a serious complication of these conditions and is often associated with fever, lowering of blood pressure, and a life-threatening state.
Bursitis is inflammation of the fluid-filled sacs, called bursa, that cushion areas of pressure between joints, muscles, and tendons. Bursitis is due to overuse or repetitive actions around the joints of the body. This inflammation results in pain that is experienced during movement or pressure. Treatment involves performing stretches and strengthening exercises to help relieve pressure from the bursa.
Low back pain can be caused by tumors, either benign or malignant, that originate in the bone of the spine or pelvis and spinal cord (primary tumors) and those which originate elsewhere and spread to these areas (metastatic tumors). Symptoms range from localized pain to radiating severe pain and loss of nerve and muscle function (even incontinence of urine and stool) depending on whether or not the tumors affect the nervous tissue. Tumors of these areas are detected using imaging tests, such as plain X-rays, nuclear bone scanning, and CAT and MRI scanning.
You could do these moves all together as a single workout, or, as Miranda suggests, split them in half and do the first part one day and the second part another—"but do the warm-up with each one," she says. Those first three moves are meant to not only "wake up" the muscles, but also get your brain ready for the movement patterns to come. For that reason, she says that doing the first three moves "would be a fantastic warm-up before any workout."
5. Feel free as a bird. Open up those hips with yoga’s pigeon pose! Start on all fours with hands below the shoulders and knees below the hips. Bring the right knee forward until it touches the right hand and place the leg flat on the ground across the body (the right foot is now on the left side of the body, parallel to the front of the mat). Drop left leg to the ground, and extend it back with toes turned under. Keep the hips level, inhale, and walk hands forward. Exhale, and fold the torso over, lowering elbows to the floor. Stay in this position for 5-10 breaths before coming back up to switch sides.
Contact sports: It should go without saying; all contact sports should be firmly off your to-do list! That also includes sports than involve contact with another object like tennis or gold! Not only do these forms of exercise make you vulnerable to further injury, the rigorous movements required can place your hip joint under too much stress. Try and give the footie a miss for now and instead focus on other exercises you can do with your friends such as swimming or yoga!
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Tighten the muscles in your buttocks, then lift your hips off the ground and hold for about five seconds before slowly lowering yourself back down. Be sure to breathe throughout the exercise. As with the first exercise, you can work up to doing 30 repetitions, resting for a few seconds (or longer) between each. “If you start to get tired, stop and rest for a couple of minutes,” Pariser says.
In the elderly, atherosclerosis can cause weakening of the wall of the large arterial blood vessel (aorta) in the abdomen. This weakening can lead to a bulging (aneurysm) of the aorta wall. While most aneurysms cause no symptoms, some cause a pulsating low back pain. Aneurysms of certain size, especially when enlarging over time, can require surgical repair with a grafting procedure to repair the abnormal portion of the artery.