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).
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.
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).
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.
^ Machado, GC; Maher, CG; Ferreira, PH; Pinheiro, MB; Lin, CW; Day, RO; McLachlan, AJ; Ferreira, ML (31 March 2015). "Efficacy and safety of paracetamol for spinal pain and osteoarthritis: systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo controlled trials". BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.). 350: h1225. doi:10.1136/bmj.h1225. PMC 4381278. PMID 25828856.
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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.
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.”