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.
Brace your core and bend your knees to lower down into a split squat. Your left knee should ideally form a 90-degree angle so that your thigh is parallel to the ground, and your right knee is hovering above the floor. (Quick position check: your left foot should be stepped out far enough that you can do this without letting your left knee go past your left toes—if you can't, hop your left foot out a bit farther away from the bench.)
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
You're more likely to get a hip flexor injury if you've had one in the past, you don't warm up properly before engaging in athletic activity, your muscles are already tight or stiff, or your muscles are weak from being overused. If, while exercising, you try to do too much at once in too short an amount of time, you can also put yourself at risk for a hip flexor injury.
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Shingles (herpes zoster) is an acute infection of the nerves that supply sensation to the skin, generally at one or several spinal levels and on one side of the body (right or left). Patients with shingles usually have had chickenpox earlier in life. The herpes virus that causes chickenpox is believed to exist in a dormant state within the spinal nerve roots long after the chickenpox resolves. In people with shingles, this virus reactivates to cause infection along the sensory nerve, leading to nerve pain and usually an outbreak of shingles (tiny blisters on the same side of the body and at the same nerve level). The back pain in patients with shingles of the lumbar area can precede the skin rash by days. Successive crops of tiny blisters can appear for several days and clear with crusty inflammation in one to two weeks. Patients occasionally are left with a more chronic nerve pain (postherpetic neuralgia). Treatment can involve symptomatic relief with lotions, such as calamine, or medications, such as acyclovir (Zovirax), for the infection and pregabalin (Lyrica) or lidocaine (Lidoderm) patches for the pain.
That is, the parts of your body that touch a saddle when riding a horse: groin, buttock, and inner thighs. I experienced rather intense, terrifying awareness of symptoms in this area in the aftermath of my wife’s car accident in early 2010. With a mangled T12 vertebrae, she was at real risk of exactly this problem. Fortunately, she escaped that quite serious problem. But, sheesh, I was vigilant about it for a while! “Honey, any numbness in your saddle area today?” BACK TO TEXT
The lumbar (or lower back) region is made up of five vertebrae (L1–L5), sometimes including the sacrum. In between these vertebrae are fibrocartilaginous discs, which act as cushions, preventing the vertebrae from rubbing together while at the same time protecting the spinal cord. Nerves come from and go to the spinal cord through specific openings between the vertebrae, providing the skin with sensations and messages to muscles. Stability of the spine is provided by the ligaments and muscles of the back and abdomen. Small joints called facet joints limit and direct the motion of the spine.
In diagnosing the causes of hip pain, it’s important to understand hip anatomy. The hip is basically a ball-and-socket joint similar to the shoulder joint and the arms. The hip joint is impressive in that it serves two factors, it is a support structure and also very flexible. Because it is a strong support structure, it tends to get injured. Because it’s very flexible, it similarly can be susceptible to injuries.
Sit on floor with knees bent and shins stacked with right leg on top. Use your hand to position right ankle on left knee. Ideally, the right knee will rest on the left thigh, but if your hips are tight, your right knee may point up toward the ceiling (overtime, as your hips become more open, your knee will lower). Keeping your hips squared to the front of the room, hinge at the hips and slowly walk hands slightly forward. If this is enough of a stretch, hold here, or fold your torso over your thighs to go deeper. Hold for at least 30 seconds, then repeat on opposite side.
Following any period of prolonged inactivity, a regimen of low-impact exercises is advised. Speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30 minutes daily can increase muscle strength and flexibility. Yoga also can help stretch and strengthen muscles and improve posture. Consult a physician for a list of low-impact, age-appropriate exercises that are specifically targeted to strengthening lower back and abdominal muscles.
Electrodiagnostics are procedures that, in the setting of low back pain, are primarily used to confirm whether a person has lumbar radiculopathy. The procedures include electromyography (EMG), nerve conduction studies (NCS), and evoked potential (EP) studies. EMG assesses the electrical activity in a muscle and can detect if muscle weakness results from a problem with the nerves that control the muscles. Very fine needles are inserted in muscles to measure electrical activity transmitted from the brain or spinal cord to a particular area of the body. NCSs are often performed along with EMG to exclude conditions that can mimic radiculopathy. In NCSs, two sets of electrodes are placed on the skin over the muscles. The first set provides a mild shock to stimulate the nerve that runs to a particular muscle. The second set records the nerve’s electrical signals, and from this information nerve damage that slows conduction of the nerve signal can be detected. EP tests also involve two sets of electrodes—one set to stimulate a sensory nerve, and the other placed on the scalp to record the speed of nerve signal transmissions to the brain.
How to do it: Loop a resistance band around your ankles and lie on your right side with your right arm extended on the floor, left hand in front of your body for support. Brace your abs in tight, bring your bottom leg slightly in front of your top leg (let the inside of your top foot rest on the ground), and lift your leg up to the ceiling, keeping your hips stacked. Maintain tension on the band at all times and pulse your bottom leg up and down quickly 20 times. Repeat on the other side.
The diagnosis of low back pain involves a review of the history of the illness and underlying medical conditions as well as a physical examination. It is essential that a complete story of the back pain be reviewed including injury history, aggravating and alleviating conditions, associated symptoms (fever, numbness, tingling, incontinence, etc.), as well as the duration and progression of symptoms. Aside from routine abdomen and extremity evaluations, rectal and pelvic examinations may eventually be required as well. Further tests for diagnosis of low back pain can be required including blood and urine tests, plain film X-ray tests, CAT scanning, MRI scanning, bone scanning, and tests of the nerves such as electromyograms (EMG) and nerve conduction velocities (NCV).
Chou R, Qaseem A, Snow V, Casey D, Cross JT Jr, Shekelle P, Owens DK, Clinical Efficacy Assessment Subcommittee of the American College of Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guidelines Panel (Oct 2, 2007). "Diagnosis and treatment of low back pain: a joint clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society". Annals of Internal Medicine. 147 (7): 478–91. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-147-7-200710020-00006. PMID 17909209.
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.)
Stretching is your next move, but not just any stretches. “Before your workout, you want to go for dynamic stretches, or stretches that put the joint through a full range of motion,” says Lefkowith. Moves like squats and lunges will get your muscles fired up (especially if you focus on squeezing your butt at the top of those squats), says Lefkowith.
Low back pain results in large economic costs. In the United States, it is the most common type of pain in adults, responsible for a large number of missed work days, and is the most common musculoskeletal complaint seen in the emergency department. In 1998, it was estimated to be responsible for $90 billion in annual health care costs, with 5% of individuals incurring most (75%) of the costs. Between 1990 and 2001 there was a more than twofold increase in spinal fusion surgeries in the US, despite the fact that there were no changes to the indications for surgery or new evidence of greater usefulness. Further costs occur in the form of lost income and productivity, with low back pain responsible for 40% of all missed work days in the United States. Low back pain causes disability in a larger percentage of the workforce in Canada, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden than in the US or Germany.
Before recommending exercises, physical therapists evaluate their patients to develop a routine that’s appropriate for their specific condition. Pariser says the following exercises, done at home and at the gym, are generally safe for everyone. “If a patient has already received a total hip replacement, however, certain precautions should be taken,” he says.
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^ Chou R, Loeser JD, Owens DK, Rosenquist RW, Atlas SJ, Baisden J, Carragee EJ, Grabois M, Murphy DR, Resnick DK, Stanos SP, Shaffer WO, Wall EM, American Pain Society Low Back Pain Guideline Panel (2009). "Interventional therapies, surgery, and interdisciplinary rehabilitation for low back pain: An evidence-based clinical practice guideline from the American Pain Society". Spine. 34 (10): 1066–77. doi:10.1097/BRS.0b013e3181a1390d. PMID 19363457.
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.
Approximately 15 degrees of hip extension is required to walk normally. If hip flexors are tight then in order to walk, compensatory movement needs to take place through the lower back causing back pain and premature disc degeneration. Like other joints, if we fail to take them through their full range on a regular basis we eventually lose mobility.
The hip joint is designed to withstand repeated motion and a fair amount of wear and tear. This ball-and-socket joint—the body’s largest ball-and-socket joint—fits together in a way that allows for fluid movement. While many causes of hip pain can arise from the joint itself, there are numerous structures surrounding the hip that can also be the source of pain.
If low back pain occurs after a recent injury — such as a car accident, a fall or sports injury — call your primary-care physician immediately. If there are any neurological symptoms, seek medical care immediately. If there are no neurological problems (i.e. numbness, weakness, bowel and bladder dysfunction), the patient may benefit by beginning conservative treatment at home for two to three days. The patient may take anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or ibuprofen and restrict strenuous activities for a few days.
Two types of strength-training moves that may benefit the lower back are flexion and extension exercises. In flexion exercises, you bend forward to stretch the muscles of the back and hips. In extension exercises, you bend backward to develop the muscles that support the spine. One example is doing leg lifts while lying on your stomach. Depending on the cause of your back pain, there are some exercises you should not do. If you have back pain, make sure to talk to your doctor about what exercises are safe for you.