Osteoarthritis. This condition results from wear and tear of the disc and facet joints. It causes pain, inflammation, instability, and stenosis to a variable degree, and can occur at a single level or multiple levels of the lower spine. Spinal osteoarthritis is associated with aging and is slowly progressive. It is also referred to as spondylosis or degenerative joint disease.
Most Australian adults will experience low back pain at some time in their lives. Most low back pain gets better without the need to see a doctor, and gentle activity, not bed rest, seems usually to be the best treatment. Low back pain (lumbar pain) can be caused by a problem in the muscles, ligaments, discs, joints or nerves of the spine.Some back pain is due to serious problems, but most back problems are ‘mechanical’ in nature and can be prevented by looking after your back and keeping it in good shape.SymptomsThe symptoms of low back pain may include:Dull ache in the lower back;Stiffness of the lower back;Tingling or numbness of the leg(s);Tingling or pain in a buttock;Pain in the hip;Muscle spasms or seizing up of the back muscles;Sharp pain;Difficulty walking or standing up straight;Weakness of the leg or foot.Sometimes back pain is more on one side of the spine than the other.When to seek immediate medical help for back painRarely, back pain may be a sign of something serious. There are some signs and symptoms that may accompany the back pain or features of the pain that mean you should seek medical help immediately. These include:New bowel or bladder problems, such as not being able to urinate or incontinence.Numbness over the buttocks, especially in a pattern like a saddle.Fever or chills.A recent fall or injury to the back.Back pain that is worse when you are resting, lying down or in bed at night.Throbbing in the abdomen.Weakness in a leg, which might show itself as dragging a foot or one leg.Unexplained weight loss.Also, if you are over 50 or under 16 and have back pain you should see your doctor. Similarly, if you have ever had cancer or suffer from osteoporosis, or the back pain is accompanied by unexplained weight loss, you should seek medical advice.Diagnosis and tests for low back painTo help diagnose the cause of your back pain or rule out any serious problems, your doctor may ask questions about the pain, such as:Did the back pain come on suddenly, does it come and go, or has it gradually worsened over time?Is your back sore to the touch?Is your back pain affected by your position, e.g. is it worse or better when you stand or sit, or bend over or lie down?Was it brought on by exercise or activity that you are unaccustomed to?Do you have any pain in your feet or legs?Is there any tingling in your legs or feet?Is the back pain accompanied by any swelling?Is the pain worse during the night?Are you having any problems going to the toilet?Your doctor will examine your back and may wish to feel and locate any areas of sensitivity and pain. They may ask you to perform movements so they can see your range of motion. They may also test the nerves.These examinations will not usually reveal the exact cause of the back pain, but they help your doctor to rule out any serious problems or problems needing immediate attention. In many cases, knowing the exact cause of the pain does not change the recommendations for treatment. Most non-specific back pain or uncomplicated back pain does not need a precise diagnosis of the anatomical problems that are causing it before treatment is started.X-rays or other radiological imaging tests are not usually recommended initially for low back pain as the findings do not necessarily correspond with the severity of symptoms. For example, many adults have signs of damage (such as to discs or facet joints) on X-ray, but have no symptoms of back pain. And conversely, many people with low back pain will have no obvious signs of damage on X-rays.If the back pain has been ongoing, or your doctor suspects a fracture or specific cause, they may suggest you have some imaging tests. Sometimes, your doctor may wish to order blood tests to rule out or confirm causes such as infection, inflammation or cancer.Imaging tests used in low back painIf your doctor suspects a specific cause of the back pain then they may refer you for imaging tests such as X-ray of the lumbar spine (although plain X-rays are rarely useful), or an MRI scan. MRI scans can show the spinal discs and the nerve roots and the soft tissues. MRIs are probably the most useful imaging technique for low back pain as they can show problems with the discs and whether anything is pressing on the nerves of the spinal cord. Sometimes a CT scan will be suggested, if an MRI is not available.Ultrasound may be used if kidney stones are suspected as the cause of the pain.Nerve conduction studies called electromyography may be suggested, however the results often don’t reflect the symptoms, so this test may not give any useful information.Should I see a specialist for low back pain?Depending on the results of tests, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, however, 99 per cent of low back pain that GPs see is not serious. Specialists that treat low back pain include pain specialists, neurosurgeons, rheumatologists and orthopaedic surgeons.In addition to doctors, many people find consulting with a physiotherapist or osteopath may help. Osteopaths and physiotherapists may help with diagnosis of some back problems, mobility, exercises, stretching and advice.Osteopaths and physiotherapists don’t require you to have a referral from your GP. Their services are only rebated on Medicare as part of a specific chronic disease plan, but may be covered by private health insurance extras cover.Causes of low back painMost backaches are due to problems with the muscles, ligaments and joints. More serious problems occur when the nerves or spinal cord are injured, usually by local pressure.Back muscle strainsLow back pain can be due to a pulled or torn muscle in the lumbar region. There are many muscles involved in the lower back, which help support the spine and the upper body. These include extensor muscles (such as the erector spinae), the oblique muscles and the flexors (such as the psoas).When any of these muscles are stretched or torn (strained), there are micro-tears in the muscle fibres and these tears give rise to inflammation and pain. Myofascial pain like this from the muscles around the spine usually resolves after a short period of active recovery. But, it can also be present alongside other causes of back pain.Lumbar sprainA lumbar sprain happens when the ligaments of the lower back are stretched or torn. Ligaments are the tough connective tissue that joins bones, joints and cartilage together and keeps them stable. If the ligaments are stretched too far they can tear.The symptoms and treatment of a lumbar sprain are the same as for lumbar strain - which affects the muscles, rather than the ligaments.Muscle spasmsYou won’t usually know whether your low back pain is a result of a muscle problem or a ligament problem. Both can cause quite severe pain and cause inflammation in the surrounding area and sometimes spasm of the surrounding muscles. A back spasm is felt as a cramping or tightening of the muscles. Spasms are involuntary contractions of the muscle - that means you have no control over them.Muscle spasms are usually caused by the back trying to protect itself from damage to the muscles themselves or may indicate that there is an underlying injury to the spine itself.Degenerative disc diseaseDegenerative disc disease refers to normal changes to the spinal discs caused by ageing. The intervertebral discs are cushion-like structures between the vertebrae - the bony joints of the spine. The discs have a tough outside casing and are filled with a gel-like centre. They act like shock absorbers.As we age the discs become stiffer, drier and thinner. This makes them less flexible and supple and they may restrict movement and cause pain. Degenerative changes are more frequent in the lumbar (lower) spine and the cervical (neck) region of the spine.Degenerative disc disease of the spine may cause chronic (ongoing) low back pain, interspersed with more painful flare-ups from time to time. The pain is often worse when sitting, as the back is carrying more load in that position, and the pain may be relieved by standing up, changing positions or lying down.With ageing, bone spurs - tiny growths on the edges of the bones of the spine - may also occur. These bone spurs (osteophytes) are usually smooth and may not cause any pain.Ruptured, prolapsed or herniated discSometimes called a ‘slipped disc’, a herniated disc happens when the soft jelly-like centre of a spinal disc bulges out of a tear in the outer casing of the disc. The disc itself doesn’t move, but a split in its casing allows the soft middle (nucleus pulposus) to bulge out (herniate).Herniated discs don’t always cause problems - up to a third of people who don’t have back pain are shown to have herniated discs on imaging. However, sometimes the bulging part can press on a nerve and cause pain, tingling and other problems, such as weakness. Inflammation from the site may also contribute to symptoms. Prolapsed discs like this can be the cause of sciatica. The discs in the lumbar spine are most likely to herniate - these are the discs between the 5 lumbar vertebrae - L1 to L5.Over time, the herniated portion of the disc (that’s the part that’s bulging out) usually gets smaller (regresses) and the symptoms ease and may go away. Most people with symptoms will improve in 2 weeks.Facet joint problemsFacet joint problems are common causes of back pain and the resulting condition is commonly referred to as facet joint pain or facet joint syndrome.The facet joints are small stabilising joints between and behind the vertebrae of the spine. There are 2 facet joints between each 2 vertebrae at every level of the spine (except the very top vertebrae in the neck). They allow some flexibility so that you can slightly twist and turn around, but they give you stability so that there isn’t excessive movement in your spine. The facet joints in the lumbar region allow only flexion and extension, so no twisting. Facet joints are synovial joints, so the joint surfaces have cartilage to allow them to glide smoothly together and they are enclosed in a lubricant-filled capsule.Over time, facet joints can wear out, and with wear and tear the cartilage can become thin, leading to the bones rubbing on each other. This osteoarthritis leads to inflammation and pain, and bone spurs can form on the surface of the bone. As the intervertebral discs become thinner with age, more pressure still is put on the facet joints.Facet joints can also slip (dislocate) and become locked in position. Locked facet joints happen suddenly, for example when a person bends down to tie a shoelace and then experiences that their back seizes up. Problems with facet joints can be unpredictable.Symptoms of facet joint problems include tenderness over the affected facet joint, decreased movement and stiffness, pain when bending backwards and pain in the buttock or radiating down thigh (but not beyond knee).Spinal stenosisSpinal stenosis means narrowing of the spaces in the spine, either:narrowing of the spinal canal (the hollow ‘tube’ that holds the spinal cord);narrowing of the spaces where the nerve roots exit the side of each vertebrae; orNarrowing and impingement of the nerve root after it has exited the vertebrae.Spinal stenosis can be caused by degeneration of other structures in the back, such as the facet joints or discs, for example by bone spurs or herniated discs. Some people inherit a small spinal canal in the first place.Symptoms of spinal stenosis often start slowly and worsen over time. They may include tingling, numbness or weakness in the feet or legs. If you have symptoms like these, you must visit a doctor.Ankylosing spondylitisAnkylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis affecting the spine. The cause is not known, but there is a strong inherited component to the disease.The symptoms of ankylosing spondylitis are lower back pain and stiffness (especially first thing in the morning), tiredness and pain over the buttocks and down the thigh. The pain tends to ease as the day goes on. Rest does not help back pain from ankylosing spondylitis.Ankylosing spondylitis also causes pain and arthritis in other joints of the body, other than the spine.SpondylolisthesisSpondylolisthesis is when one of your vertebrae slips forwards or backwards out of its normal alignment, causing a step in the building blocks of the spine. It most commonly affects one of the lumbar vertebrae in the lower back.It doesn’t always cause pain, but when it does the pain is usually worse during activity and relieved by lying down. If the slipped vertebra presses on a nerve, then you may have symptoms of sciatica - tingling down your leg and over your buttock. People with spondylolisthesis often have tight hamstrings.Spondylolisthesis may be due to a fracture or a defect that is inherited. It may be caused by a traumatic injury, such as from high-impact sports (e.g. gymnastics) or a motor vehicle accident. If the spine has become worn and arthritic, then spondylolisthesis is more likely.Sacro-iliac joint problemsProblems with the sacro-iliac joints - the 2 joints that join your sacrum (tailbone) to your pelvis - can give rise to low back pain. You have a sacroiliac joint on the left and one on the right of your sacrum (the triangular shaped bone at the base of your spine).The sacro-iliac joints are designed to be fairly stiff, and don’t normally allow more than a few degrees of movement. They function as shock absorbers. If the joints are abnormally mobile (too much movement) or restricted in movement they can give rise to low back pain. The SI joints may also become inflamed (called sacroiliitis).Symptoms of sacro-iliac joint pain include low back pain, leg pain (but rarely below the knee), pain in the sacro-iliac region itself or in the buttocks. There may be muscle spasms of surrounding muscles as they try to protect themselves or respond to underlying damage.Cauda equina syndrome (CES)Cauda equina syndrome is a medical emergency caused by compression of the spinal nerve roots. Below the waist near where the lumbar spine starts, your spinal cord separates into a bundle of nerves and nerve roots that resemble a horse’s tail; this is the cauda equina. These nerve roots supply messages to your legs, feet and pelvic organs. Anything that compromises the nerves can affect the function of your bladder, bowel, legs and feet and could result in paralysis or loss of continence.Symptoms of cauda equina syndrome may come and go, developing slowly over time, or come on suddenly and include:numbness of the buttocks in the pattern of where you would sit on a saddle;severe low back pain;tingling, weakness or pain in one or both legs;changes to bowel or bladder function;abnormal sensations in the bladder or rectum;sudden loss of sexual function;loss of some reflexes.If you develop any of these symptoms, you should visit a doctor or the emergency department straightaway.CES can be caused by a severe rupture of a lumbar disc, spinal stenosis, spine injury, inflammation or a birth defect.Spinal fractureOsteoporosis - a condition causing spongy bones - can cause sudden compression fractures (cracks) of the vertebrae. These osteoporotic compression fractures usually affect the vertebrae of the thoracic (upper) spine, but may also affect the lumbar (lower) vertebrae. They cause sudden back pain when they happen and can lead to ongoing pain, pain that is worse when standing or walking, and loss of height. Vertebral fractures such as this are common in postmenopausal women and older men.Spinal fractures may also be due to trauma, falls, sports injuries, or motor vehicle accidents.SpondylolysisSpondylolysis is a type of fracture or stress fracture in the vertebrae. It often affects young athletes who do sports such as gymnastics or football. Whilst the fractures sometimes spontaneously heal, they may not heal correctly and can cause ongoing back pain.Mostly there are no symptoms in young people with spondylolysis, but symptoms can include lower back pain which may extend into the buttocks or legs.Spondylolysis is a common cause of spondylolisthesis (mentioned earlier) where one vertebra slips out of position over another. Conversely, in older people with spondylolisthesis, this can lead to uneven loading of the facet joint, causing a compression fracture.CancerCancer is a rare cause of back pain. Tumours affecting the spine are usually secondary cancers that have spread from the primary tumour somewhere else in the body. Symptoms of spinal tumours include back pain, unexplained weight loss, weakness or numbness in arms or legs, and pain that is worse at night and which doesn’t go away with rest.Risk factorsRisk factors for low back pain include:Being overweight or obese - which puts more strain on the back.Being middle aged or older - back pain is more common the older you get.Lack of exercise - which can lead to weak back muscles that don’t support the spine.Poor posture - this can lead to muscle imbalances.Heavy physical work and lifting weights that are too heavy.Incorrect lifting technique, e.g. using your back instead of your legs.Overdoing it or doing unaccustomed exercise.Being pregnant.Stress - this can lead you to unconsciously tighten your back muscles.Sitting for long periods of time.Scoliosis - an abnormal curving of the spine sideways.Treatment and self-help for low back painMost uncomplicated back pain resolves after a period of active recovery and people are generally back to normal within 4 weeks.See your doctor if you are at all concerned about your back pain, and especially if any of the following occur:Your back pain has not improved after a couple of weeks;The pain is getting worse as time goes on. Active recovery includes trying to do normal activities as much as possible and keeping active. Gentle walking, which improves blood flow and speeds up healing, can help. Doctors now know that inactivity and rest will lead to stiffness and more pain and is more likely to lead to ongoing back problems.Careful stretching may help relax muscles, especially if you have muscle spasms.You may find that sleeping with a pillow between your legs can make night-times more comfortable.Over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or anti-inflammatories, e.g. ibuprofen (Nurofen), may help ease pain and reduce inflammation. If they are suitable for you, anti-inflammatories may be more effective than paracetamol. The pain probably won’t be completely eliminated, but this should enable you to resume gentle activity. Make sure you take the recommended dose. These medicines are not suitable for everyone, so always check with your doctor or pharmacist.Topical pain relievers are applied to the skin at the site of the pain. They are creams or ointments, usually. Some use the same ingredients that are in the tablet forms of over the counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen or aspirin. Others have ingredients such as capsaicin, a compound from chilli peppers, or menthol.Stronger painkillers. Depending on the circumstances of your back pain, your doctor may prescribe other painkillers, antidepressants or other medicines.There is no evidence to support using muscle relaxants to treat low back pain. Oxycodone (prescribed as Endone or Oxycontin) is a strong painkiller belonging to the opioid group of medicines and is sometimes prescribed for back pain. Oxycodone can lead to addiction if used for long periods and also carries the risk of overdose. Whilst it may be effective in the short term for sudden onset of back pain, oxycodone is not recommended long term and there is no evidence for it being effective in the long term. Codeine is another strong painkiller, sometimes used in the short term for back pain. Codeine is another opioid and can also lead to addiction.Hot or cold packs may help with the pain as may sitting in a warm bath. Heat loosens tight muscles and increases blood flow, bringing more oxygen and nutrients to the area. Cold can help reduce pain and swelling. Cold is usually used in the beginning stages of an injury.Exercise programs - A physiotherapist or osteopath should be able to help you with an exercise programme to improve mobility, reduce pain, prevent further injury and help with recovery from back pain.Don’t worry too much or allow negative thoughts to run amok - the relationship between our thoughts and pain is complex. Worry and anxiety about back pain can make the pain worse.Acupuncture - there is no evidence to show that acupuncture has any effect in improving low back pain, however, it is unlikely to be harmful.TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) - this technique uses low voltage electrical current and is said to block pain signals. At the moment, there is no evidence to show TENS has any effect in helping low back pain.Therapeutic massage - The evidence to support the effectiveness of massage to help lower back pain is not very strong, but some people have found it offers relief. Spinal manipulation is definitely not recommended, though, as it may not be safe in some situations.Pilates - Studio training with experienced instructors can help with core stability and posture, and improve the health of your spine and muscle strength. Pilates training works on the deep support muscles of the spine and should help protect you from future episodes of back pain.Yoga - Yoga can help with flexibility and posture, and along with the breathing and meditation aspects yoga may help to relieve lower back pain and improve function of the spine. Some yoga positions are not safe for people with certain back conditions, so you should always let a yoga instructor know if you have back problems.Alexander technique - The Alexander technique helps you to recognise and correct poor postural habits which lead to tension and pain in the body. Teachers in the Alexander technique observe the way you move and then with gentle guidance help you to learn safer and more relaxed ways of moving your body. One-to-one lessons in the Alexander technique have been shown to have a beneficial effect on back pain and functioning in people with ongoing or recurrent low back pain, even 12 months after the lessons have finished.Anti-inflammatory diet - Some foods have been shown to contribute to inflammation in the body, which in turn might aggravate back pain. Processed foods are generally acknowledged to be pro-inflammatory (causing inflammation). On the other hand, some foods are known to have an anti-inflammatory effect or can help with pain relief. Some foods known to reduce inflammation are omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish), and antioxidants from colourful fruit and vegetables.Facet joint injections - Facet joint injections are corticosteroid injections. Australian guidelines now recommend that in most cases, facet joint injections are not helpful. They were done when a facet joint was suspected of causing the back pain. If the pain went away then this confirmed the diagnosis of facet joint disease or facet joint syndrome.Back surgery - In ongoing, non-specific back pain, there is no evidence that surgery helps. Surgery is usually only relevant for a minority of people with back pain, who have specific anatomical causes of their back pain, such as problems that cause pinching of a nerve. Techniques for back surgery are becoming less and less invasive, many being carried out using keyhole surgery.Types of spinal surgery include: spinal fusion, which permanently connects 2 vertebrae together using a bone graft;lumbar decompression, which removes structures that are pressing on a nerve root, by either microdiscectomy, where the protruding pieces of a herniated disc are removed under microscopic view; or laminectomy, a more open type of surgery, where the facet joints may be trimmed, as well as problems with discs resolved.Kyphoplasty - insertion of a balloon to expand a compressed vertebra, followed by injection of bone cement into the vertebra. These compression fractures are usually from osteoporosis.Vertebroplasty - injection of bone cement into a compressed vertebra.OutlookMost people who have an episode of non-specific low back pain improve quickly, and usually recover within 4 weeks. A positive outlook can help you recover more quickly. However, a minority of people will have ongoing problems - the risk of this happening increases with age. Older people are particularly at risk of having recurrent episodes of back pain.PreventionIf you’ve hurt your back already, then prevention is probably the last thing on your mind. However, some people have further episodes of back pain after the initial episode has resolved, so it’s worth finding out what you can do to protect your back from further attacks of back pain.The back is at least risk of injury when it is in its neutral position. Anything that forces it to tilt can cause strains to the ligaments, and pain can result. Twisting when lifting is one common cause of low back pain.The way we lift, sit at our desks, operate machinery and do hundreds of minor tasks can all affect our backs. Trying to keep the back in a neutral position at all times will reduce the risk of backache. This is particularly important with tasks such as gardening and housework, which involve a lot of bending. Whenever possible, bend the knees and keep the back straight when doing things at ground level.Here are some things you can do to try to avoid back pain.Maintain good posture. Try to sit and stand with a ‘neutral spine’ (a physiotherapist or pilates instructor will be able to show you this). Use your legs to walk up hills (not your back) by staying upright and not bending forwards. Slow down if you have to, to maintain good posture. Sit with your knees slightly higher than your hips.Stay active. Low impact exercise, such as walking or swimming can strengthen the back muscles and the muscles of the core, which allows them to support the spine correctly. Regular exercise can help with strength and flexibility, ease pain and stiffness and protect bones.Back strengthening exercises. Try to do these every week at least a couple of times. A physiotherapist or pilates instructor will be able to help you with the best exercises for your back.Avoid heavy lifting. Avoid lifting weights that are too heavy for you. Learn correct lifting techniques - bend from the knees and use your legs to push up, and contract your abdominal muscles before you lift. Don’t twist when you lift, and don’t bend from the waist. Push, rather than pull, heavy objects.Pay attention to your carrying technique. Try not to load down one side of your body with heavy bags or handbags - distribute the load as evenly as possible and keep your shoulders square. Swap sides often when carrying heavy bags.Avoid stress. Being stressed or anxious leads to muscle tension by causing blood vessels to narrow, reducing blood flow and oxygen to the body’s tissues. This leads to a build-up of waste products, which cause the muscles to spasm or contract. Being under constant stress causes the muscles to tighten and shorten, causing pain - often in the neck and back.Stretching. Stretching can help to reduce muscle tension. Tight hamstrings - the muscles down the back of your thigh - can be a cause of low back pain, so make sure your hamstrings are stretched out and not too tight.Not smoking. Smoking is linked to the development of low back pain. Doctors think this is due to reduced blood flow (which reduces the nutrients reaching the back), jarring from coughing and the fact that the bones of smokers have a lower mineral content.Eat a healthy diet. Some foods have been shown to have anti-inflammatory or pain-reducing properties. An anti-inflammatory diet, such as the Mediterranean diet, may help keep inflammation at bay and so lessen your chance of back pain.Stay hydrated. As we age, the soft gel-like centre of our intervertebral discs dries out and the discs become less effective as shock absorbers. Staying hydrated may go some way to help keep the discs plumped up and slow down this process.Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight can make it harder to move about and puts more strain on your body. Being overweight also creates inflammation in the body.Avoid high heels. High heels alter your body’s alignment and put a strain on your back. Unsupportive footwear, such as thongs or flipflops, do not support the arches of the feet and so can lead to poor posture and back pain. Last Reviewed: 2 October 2017
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.
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.
Bone scans are used to detect and monitor infection, fracture, or disorders in the bone. A small amount of radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream and will collect in the bones, particularly in areas with some abnormality. Scanner-generated images can be used to identify specific areas of irregular bone metabolism or abnormal blood flow, as well as to measure levels of joint disease.
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.
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.
Foraminotomy is an operation that “cleans out” or enlarges the bony hole (foramen) where a nerve root exits the spinal canal. Bulging discs or joints thickened with age can cause narrowing of the space through which the spinal nerve exits and can press on the nerve, resulting in pain, numbness, and weakness in an arm or leg. Small pieces of bone over the nerve are removed through a small slit, allowing the surgeon to cut away the blockage and relieve pressure on the nerve.
True numbness is not just a dead/heavy feeling (which is common, and caused even by minor muscular dysfunction in the area), but a significant or complete lack of sensitivity to touch. You have true numbness when you have patches of skin where you cannot feel light touch. Such areas might still be sensitive to pressure: you could feel a poke, but as if it was through a layer of rubber. Most people have experienced true numbness at the dentist. BACK TO TEXT
Mechanical pain. By far the most common cause of lower back pain, mechanical pain (axial pain) is pain primarily from the muscles, ligaments, joints (facet joints, sacroiliac joints), or bones in and around the spine. This type of pain tends to be localized to the lower back, buttocks, and sometimes the top of the legs. It is usually influenced by loading the spine and may feel different based on motion (forward/backward/twisting), activity, standing, sitting, or resting.
If low back pain gets worse or does not improve after two to three days of home treatment, contact a primary-care physician. The physician can evaluate the patient and perform a neurological exam in the office to determine which nerve root is being irritated, as well as rule out other serious medical conditions. If there are clear signs that the nerve root is being compressed, a physician can prescribe medications to relieve the pain, swelling and irritation; he or she also may recommend limitation of activities. If these treatment options do not provide relief within two weeks, it may be time to consider other diagnostic studies and possibly surgery.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) involves wearing a battery-powered device consisting of electrodes placed on the skin over the painful area that generate electrical impulses designed to block incoming pain signals from the peripheral nerves. The theory is that stimulating the nervous system can modify the perception of pain. Early studies of TENS suggested that it elevated levels of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-numbing chemicals. More recent studies, however, have produced mixed results on its effectiveness for providing relief from low back pain.
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.
Like quadriceps, the hamstrings are 2-joint muscles. Unlike the quadriceps, though, the hamstrings reside at the back of your thigh. They attach at the siting bones, which are located on the underside of your pelvis. When the hamstring muscles contract, the effect is a pulling of the back of the pelvis down toward the back of the thigh, or a bringing of the lower extremity back behind you.
How to: Get on your hands and knees, in a tabletop position (a). Slowly widen your knees out as far as they can go and bring your feet in line with your knees. Your shins should be parallel with one another (b). Flex your feet and ease yourself forward onto your forearms. (If the stretch is too intense, try putting your arms on a block or firm pillow.) Hold for eight to 12 breaths (c). If holding the stretch for longer, try slowly moving your hips forward and backward to bring the stretch to different parts of your hips.
The good news is that there are plenty of good hip stretches out there that you can do to relieve discomfort, decrease tightness, and increase mobility in your hips. Since your hips are involved in so many of the movements you make (both inside and outside of the gym) stretching them is a great way to keep them feeling good and ready to work for you. Add some of the 12 hip stretches Atkins demos below to the end of your workout, or spend 10 minutes each day just doing a few of them, to improve mobility in your hips.
How to: Lie on your back with your right knee bent and foot flat on the floor (a). With your left leg fully extended, press into your right foot to shift onto your left hip. This is your starting position (b). Then, squeeze your right glutes to press your left hip open until you feel a stretch, pause, then return to start. That’s one rep (c). Perform six to eight reps, then repeat on the opposite side.
Imagine not being able to climb stairs, bend over, or even walk Changes in hip joint muscle-tendon lengths with mode of locomotion. Riley, P.O., Franz, J., Dicharry, J., et al. Center for Applied Biomechanics, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA. Gait & Posture, 2010 Feb; 31 (2): 279-83.. All pretty essential if you ask us! But that’s what our bodies would be like without our hip flexor muscles. Never heard of ‘em? It’s about time we share why they’re so important, how your desk job might be making them weaker (ah!), and the best ways to stretch them out.
Nerve irritation: The nerves of the lumbar spine can be irritated by mechanical pressure (impingement) by bone or other tissues, or from disease, anywhere along their paths -- from their roots at the spinal cord to the skin surface. These conditions include lumbar disc disease (radiculopathy), bony encroachment, and inflammation of the nerves caused by a viral infection (shingles). See descriptions of these conditions below.
I think you should mention that for some people, stretching is not the solution and that it will deteriorate their posture. Some people need stretching, but most people I know need to strengthen their "overstretched" hip flexors. Many people can't do a single hanging leg raise. Check this site if you want to know more about the importance of hip flexors bit.ly/Unlock_Your_Hip_Flexor Report
The hip is a very stable ball and socket type joint with an inherently large range of motion. The hip contains some of the largest muscle in the body as well as some of the smallest. Most people lack mobility due to a relatively sedentary lifestyle. Periods of prolonged sitting results in tightness of the hip flexors and hamstrings. Tightness in the muscles and ligaments can created joint forces that result in arthritis, postural problems, bursitis, and mechanical back pain.
Medications: A wide range of medications are used to treat acute and chronic low back pain. Some are available over the counter (OTC); others require a physician’s prescription. Certain drugs, even those available OTC, may be unsafe during pregnancy, may interact with other medications, cause side effects, or lead to serious adverse effects such as liver damage or gastrointestinal ulcers and bleeding. Consultation with a health care provider is advised before use. The following are the main types of medications used for low back pain:
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The bony lumbar spine is designed so that vertebrae "stacked" together can provide a movable support structure while also protecting the spinal cord from injury. The spinal cord is composed of nervous tissue that extends down the spinal column from the brain. Each vertebra has a spinous process, a bony prominence behind the spinal cord, which shields the cord's nervous tissue from impact trauma. Vertebrae also have a strong bony "body" (vertebral body) in front of the spinal cord to provide a platform suitable for weight bearing of all tissues above the buttocks. The lumbar vertebrae stack immediately atop the sacrum bone that is situated in between the buttocks. On each side, the sacrum meets the iliac bone of the pelvis to form the sacroiliac joints of the buttocks.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) relieve pain and inflammation and include OTC formulations (ibuprofen, ketoprofen, and naproxen sodium). Several others, including a type of NSAID called COX-2 inhibitors, are available only by prescription. Long-term use of NSAIDs has been associated with stomach irritation, ulcers, heartburn, diarrhea, fluid retention, and in rare cases, kidney dysfunction and cardiovascular disease. The longer a person uses NSAIDs the more likely they are to develop side effects. Many other drugs cannot be taken at the same time a person is treated with NSAIDs because they alter the way the body processes or eliminates other medications.
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.
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.
Congenital bone conditions: Congenital causes (existing from birth) of low back pain include scoliosis and spina bifida. Scoliosis is a sideways (lateral) curvature of the spine that can be caused when one lower extremity is shorter than the other (functional scoliosis) or because of an abnormal architecture of the spine (structural scoliosis). Children who are significantly affected by structural scoliosis may require treatment with bracing and/or surgery to the spine. Adults infrequently are treated surgically but often benefit by support bracing. Spina bifida is a birth defect in the bony vertebral arch over the spinal canal, often with absence of the spinous process. This birth defect most commonly affects the lowest lumbar vertebra and the top of the sacrum. Occasionally, there are abnormal tufts of hair on the skin of the involved area. Spina bifida can be a minor bony abnormality without symptoms. However, the condition can also be accompanied by serious nervous abnormalities of the lower extremities.
"As compared to a conventional deadlift, the sumo allows for greater recruitment of the adductors and a more stabilizing emphasis for the abductors," says Lindsey Cormack, a competitive powerlifter and CrossFit trainer. "Training sumo may feel less stable at first, but the balance requirement is what allows you to effectively train both the abductors and adductors."
Low and lower back pain can vary from dull pain that develops gradually to sudden, sharp or persistent pain felt below the waist. Unfortunately, almost everyone, at some point during life will experience low back pain that may travel downward into the buttocks and sometimes into one or both lower extremities. The most common cause is muscle strain often related to heavy physical labor, lifting or forceful movement, bending or twisting into awkward positions, or standing in one position too long.
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
The story of actor Andy Whitfield is a disturbing and educational example of a case that met these conditions — for sure the first two, and probably the third as well if we knew the details. Whitfield was the star of the hit TV show Spartacus (which is worthwhile, but rated very, very R17). The first sign of the cancer that killed him in 2011 was steadily worsening back pain. It’s always hard to diagnose a cancer that starts this way, but Whitfield was in the middle of intense physical training to look the part of history’s most famous gladiator. Back pain didn’t seem unusual at first, and some other symptoms may have been obscured. Weight loss could have even seemed like a training victory at first! It was many long months before he was diagnosed — not until the back pain was severe and constant. A scan finally revealed a large tumour pressing against his spine.
Like quadriceps, the hamstrings are 2-joint muscles. Unlike the quadriceps, though, the hamstrings reside at the back of your thigh. They attach at the siting bones, which are located on the underside of your pelvis. When the hamstring muscles contract, the effect is a pulling of the back of the pelvis down toward the back of the thigh, or a bringing of the lower extremity back behind you.
In the common presentation of acute low back pain, pain develops after movements that involve lifting, twisting, or forward-bending. The symptoms may start soon after the movements or upon waking up the following morning. The description of the symptoms may range from tenderness at a particular point to diffuse pain. It may or may not worsen with certain movements, such as raising a leg, or positions, such as sitting or standing. Pain radiating down the legs (known as sciatica) may be present. The first experience of acute low back pain is typically between the ages of 20 and 40. This is often a person's first reason to see a medical professional as an adult. Recurrent episodes occur in more than half of people with the repeated episodes being generally more painful than the first.
So, who cares right? Wrong. Everyone has seen that little old man walking with a cane, hunched over almost to the point of staring at the ground. Do you think he always walked like that? I'd bet you he didn't. Maybe he had an injury that never healed properly, or maybe after spending years and years in a similar position, his body became tighter and tighter until eventually he ended up bent over.
There are many causes of hip joint pain. Some hip pain is temporary, while other hip pain can be long-standing or chronic. Causes of hip pain include arthritis, inflammatory and noninflammatory arthritis, fracture, sprain, infectious arthritis (septic arthritis), avascular necrosis, Gaucher's disease, sciatica, muscle strain, iliotibial band syndrome (IT band syndrome), and hematoma.
Infection of the discs (septic discitis) and bone (osteomyelitis) is extremely rare. These conditions lead to localized pain associated with fever. The bacteria found when these tissues are tested with laboratory cultures include Staphylococcus aureus and Mycobacterium tuberculosis (TB bacteria). TB infection in the spine is called Pott's disease. These are each very serious conditions requiring long courses of antibiotics. The sacroiliac joints rarely become infected with bacteria. Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that can involve the sacroiliac joints and is usually transmitted in raw goat's milk.
I am a science writer, former massage therapist, and I was the assistant editor at ScienceBasedMedicine.org for several years. I have had my share of injuries and pain challenges as a runner and ultimate player. My wife and I live in downtown Vancouver, Canada. See my full bio and qualifications, or my blog, Writerly. You might run into me on Facebook or Twitter.
Don’t medically investigate back pain until it’s met at least three criteria: (1) it’s been bothering you for more than about 6 weeks; (2) it’s severe and/or not improving, or actually getting worse; and (3) there’s at least one other “red flag” (age over 55 or under 20, painful to light tapping, fever/malaise, weight loss, slow urination, incontinence, groin numbness, a dragging toe, or symptoms in both legs like numbness and/or tingling and/or weakness).
For persistent low back pain, the short-term outcome is also positive, with improvement in the first six weeks but very little improvement after that. At one year, those with chronic low back pain usually continue to have moderate pain and disability. People at higher risk of long-term disability include those with poor coping skills or with fear of activity (2.5 times more likely to have poor outcomes at one year), those with a poor ability to cope with pain, functional impairments, poor general health, or a significant psychiatric or psychological component to the pain (Waddell's signs).
Tendinitis treatment includes decreasing training, applying ice, strengthening, and stretching. How much you decrease your training is based on the severity of your symptoms. If there is pain with walking, then cross train in a pool. Cycling, rowing machines, stair steppers, and elliptical trainers may also be used if they do not cause pain. In less severe cases, cut back on mileage by 25 to 50 percent and eliminate speed training and hill work.
Spondylolisthesis. This condition occurs when one vertebra slips over the adjacent one. There are 5 types of spondylolisthesis but the most common are secondary to a defect or fracture of the pars (between the facet joints) or mechanical instability of the facet joints (degenerative). The pain can be caused by instability (back) or compression of the nerves (leg).
To avoid hip flexor pain, you should pay more attention to these muscles, Dr. Siegrist explains. When you are seated, your knees are bent and your hip muscles are flexed and often tighten up or become shortened. “Because we spend so much of our time in a seated position with the hip flexed, the hip flexor has the potential to shorten up. Then, when you are in a hurry because you are running to catch a bus or a plane, or you trip and fall, the muscle could become stretched. Here’s this stiff, brittle muscle that all of a sudden gets extended, and you could set yourself up for strain or some hip flexor pain.”
If you are experiencing low back pain, you are not alone. An estimated 75 to 85 percent of all Americans will experience some form of back pain during their lifetime. Although low back pain can be quite debilitating and painful, in about 90 percent of all cases, pain improves without surgery. However, 50 percent of all patients who suffer from an episode of low back pain will have a recurrent episode within one year.
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.
In terms of diagnosing hip pain, typically a patient will expect when they come in to be asked about their symptoms, and it’s very important to find out when did these symptoms start, how long they have been going on, how frequent they are, if they come on in the morning or the evening, do they come on with any certain activity, and if there is something that makes it better or worse. The intensity of the pain is also important. Does it have any associated radiating symptoms? Is it localized in one spot or does it move? After getting a history and finding out what type of pain the patient is having, which also includes whether the pain is dull, aching, sharp, or intense, then it’s important to do a good physical exam. The physical examination involves testing the muscle strength, testing for sensation, doing provocative maneuvers which might help us rule out one type of injury from another.
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