But how can you tell? It can be tricky. This is a concise, readable guide to symptoms that need better-safe-than-sorry investigation with your doctor. (It’s basically just a plain English version of clinical guidelines for doctors.9) In other words, this article explains the difference between “dangerous” and “just painful” as clearly as possible. Tables, checklists, and examples ahead.
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.
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.
Trauma: Sometimes trauma may cause your low back pain. There is no mystery here-a fall, a car accident, or trauma during athletics can all cause low back muscle strains. While physical therapy can help your back pain after trauma, it is always a good idea to check in with your doctor after a traumatic event to ensure that no major damage is causing your pain.
Degenerative Conditions: Sometimes, degenerative conditions that are the normal result of aging may cause your low back pain. Conditions like spinal stenosis, arthritis, or degenerative disc disease can all cause pain. Congenital conditions, like spondylolisthesis or scoliosis, can also cause your back pain. For most degenerative back problems, movement and exercise have been proven to be effective in treating these conditions. A visit to your physical therapist can help you determine the correct progression of back exercises for your specific condition.
The treatment of lumbar strain consists of resting the back (to avoid reinjury), medications to relieve pain and muscle spasm, local heat applications, massage, and eventual (after the acute episode resolves) reconditioning exercises to strengthen the low back and abdominal muscles. Initial treatment at home might include heat application, acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and avoiding reinjury and heavy lifting. Prescription medications that are sometimes used for acute low back pain include anti-inflammatory medications, such as sulindac (Clinoril), naproxen (Naprosyn), and ketorolac (Toradol) by injection or by mouth, muscle relaxants, such as carisoprodol (Soma), cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril), methocarbamol (Robaxin), and metaxalone (Skelaxin), as well as analgesics, such as tramadol (Ultram).
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
Physician specialties that evaluate and treat low back pain range from generalists to subspecialists.These specialties include emergency medicine physicians, general medicine, family medicine, internal medicine, gynecology, spine surgeons (orthopaedics and neurosurgery), rheumatology, pain management, and physiatry. Other health care providers for low back pain include physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, psychologists, and acupuncturists.
Parts of the pain sensation and processing system may not function properly; creating the feeling of pain when no outside cause exists, signaling too much pain from a particular cause, or signaling pain from a normally non-painful event. Additionally, the pain modulation mechanisms may not function properly. These phenomena are involved in chronic pain.
It is not clear whether men or women have higher rates of low back pain. A 2012 review reported a rate of 9.6% among males and 8.7% among females. Another 2012 review found a higher rate in females than males, which the reviewers felt was possibly due to greater rates of pains due to osteoporosis, menstruation, and pregnancy among women, or possibly because women were more willing to report pain than men. An estimated 70% of women experience back pain during pregnancy with the rate being higher the further along in pregnancy. Current smokers – and especially those who are adolescents – are more likely to have low back pain than former smokers, and former smokers are more likely to have low back pain than those who have never smoked.
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.
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.
Massage therapy does not appear to provide much benefit for acute low back pain. A 2015 Cochrane review found that for acute low back pain massage therapy was better than no treatment for pain only in the short-term. There was no effect for improving function. For chronic low back pain massage therapy was no better than no treatment for both pain and function, though only in the short-term. The overall quality of the evidence was low and the authors conclude that massage therapy is generally not an effective treatment for low back pain.
^ Jump up to: a b c d e f g Hughes SP, Freemont AJ, Hukins DW, McGregor AH, Roberts S (October 2012). "The pathogenesis of degeneration of the intervertebral disc and emerging therapies in the management of back pain" (PDF). J Bone Joint Surg Br. 94 (10): 1298–304. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.94B10.28986. PMID 23015552. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 October 2013. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
Hamstring squeeze. Use the machine that works your hamstrings; you will either lie on your stomach or sit with a pad behind your knee. Push against the pad, moving your knee up toward the ceiling or backward (depending on which position you’re in). “In other words, bend your knees,” Pariser says. But to avoid cramps in your hamstring muscles, don’t bend your knee so much that your heels are too close to your buttocks.
Health care professionals diagnose hip pain with a history and physical examination. Physical examination maneuvers, such as internally and externally rotating the hip, can be used to detect pain-aggravating positions. Tenderness can be elicited by palpating over inflamed areas. Straight leg raising can detect signs of sciatica. A health care professional may use imaging studies, including X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans, to further define the causes of hip pain. Sometimes, nuclear medicine bone scans are used to image inflamed or fractured bone.
Of course, you know what it feels like to have a tight muscle. But tight hips aren't just uncomfortable—they can lead to all sorts of other aches and pains, especially in the lower back. "People focus on the hips and say their hips are tight, but we don't always think about the fact that the lower back connects to our legs at the hip," Charlee Atkins, C.S.C.S., instructor at Soul Annex in New York City and creator of Le Stretch class, tells SELF. Tight hip flexors make it harder for your pelvis to rotate properly, which can cause your lower back to overcompensate, "and this can be a setup for lower-back injury," Teo Mendez, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at NY Orthopedics who focuses on operative and non-operative management of sports-related injuries, musculoskeletal injuries, and arthritis, tells SELF.
A pinched nerve causes pain, numbness, or tingling in the affected area due to pressure on a nerve. Caral tunnel and sciatica are two examples of conditions caused by a pinched nerve. A pinched nerve is diagnosed by taking a patient history and performing a physical examination. Electromyography may be performed. Treatment for a pinched nerve depends on the underlying cause.
Avascular necrosis (also called osteonecrosis). This condition happens when blood flow to the hip bone slows and the bone tissue dies. Although it can affect other bones, avascular necrosis most often happens in the hip. It can be caused by a hip fracture or dislocation, or from the long-term use of high-dose steroids (such as prednisone), among other causes.
Grade III (severe): A complete tear in your muscle that causes severe pain and swelling and you can't bear weight on that leg, making it difficult to walk. You've also lost more than 50 percent of your muscle function. These injuries are less common and may need surgery to repair the torn muscle. They can take several months or more to completely heal.
Prolonged sitting and activities like running or cycling can lead to tight hip flexor muscles and a variety of skeletal imbalances. Think: if you only cycle for exercise, certain muscles in your legs will get stronger (in a lot of cases you overwork these muscles) yet your core and outer hip muscles might get weaker from lack of engagement. So what? Well, these muscle imbalances often lead to skeletal imbalances and injuries down the line. If you have particularly tight hip flexors, your body will start to create an anterior pull on the pelvis (anterior pelvic tilt). You can identify an anterior pelvic tilt if your belly protrudes slightly in the front while your butt sticks out in the back (what some people refer to as “duck butt”).
Endometriosis (when the uterus lining grows somewhere else) can cause pelvic tenderness, which some women describe as hip pain. Pain from the back and spine also can be felt around the buttocks and hip, Siegrist says. Sciatica, a pinched nerve, typically affects one side of the body and can cause pain in the back of the right or left hip — the pain from sciatica can start in your lower back and travel down to your buttocks and legs.
You’d think so. But consider this story of a motorcycle accident: many years ago, a friend hit a car that had pulled out from a side street. He flew over the car & landed on his head. Bystanders showed their ignorance of spinal fracture by, yikes, carelessly moving him. In fact, his thoracic spine was significantly fractured … yet the hospital actually refused to do an X-ray because he had no obvious symptoms of a spinal fracture. Incredible! The next day, a horrified orthopedic surgeon ordered an X-ray immediately, confirming the fracture & quite possibly saved him from paralysis.
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.
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.
Back “spasms” are a largely a myth — there’s no such thing a sustained painful contractions of muscles in otherwise healthy people (see Cramps, Spasms, Tremors & Twitches) — but the kernel of truth in the idea of “spasms” may be the idea of trigger points, which are hypothetical “micro cramps,” tiny patches of painfully contracting muscle. Although this idea is controversial, it is nevertheless one of the most likely explanations for common aches and pains that mostly stick to one area (especially the back) and have no other obvious cause. See Back Pain & Trigger Points. BACK TO TEXT
Sit in a chair with good lumbar support and proper position and height for the task. Keep shoulders back. Switch sitting positions often and periodically walk around the office or gently stretch muscles to relieve tension. A pillow or rolled-up towel placed behind the small of the back can provide some lumbar support. During prolonged periods of sitting, elevate feet on a low stool or a stack of books.
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Located deep in the front of the hip and connecting the leg, pelvis, and abdomen, the hip flexors— surprise, surprise— flex the hip. But despite being some of the most powerful muscles in our bodies (with a clearly important role), it’s easy to neglect our poor hip flexors— often without even knowing it. It turns out just working at a desk all day (guilty!) can really weaken hip flexors since they tend to shorten up while in a seated position. This tightness disrupts good posture and is a common cause of lower back pain. Weakened hip flexors can also increase the risk of foot, ankle, and knee injuries (especially among runners) Hip muscle weakness and overuse injuries in recreational runners. Niemuth, P.E., Johnson, R.J., Myers, M.J., et al. Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions, Provo, VT. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 2005 Jan; 15 (1): 14-21.. So be sure to get up, stand up every hour or so! And giving the hip flexors some extra attention is not just about injury prevention. Adding power to workouts, working toward greater flexibility, and getting speedier while running is also, as they say, all in the hips The effect of walking speed on muscle function and mechanical energetics. Neptune, R.R., Sasaki, K., and Kautz, S.A. Department of Mechanical Engineering, The University of Texas, Austin, TX. Gait & Posture, 2008 Jul; 28 (1): 135-43..
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Pain is generally an unpleasant feeling in response to an event that either damages or can potentially damage the body's tissues. There are four main steps in the process of feeling pain: transduction, transmission, perception, and modulation. The nerve cells that detect pain have cell bodies located in the dorsal root ganglia and fibers that transmit these signals to the spinal cord. The process of pain sensation starts when the pain-causing event triggers the endings of appropriate sensory nerve cells. This type of cell converts the event into an electrical signal by transduction. Several different types of nerve fibers carry out the transmission of the electrical signal from the transducing cell to the posterior horn of spinal cord, from there to the brain stem, and then from the brain stem to the various parts of the brain such as the thalamus and the limbic system. In the brain, the pain signals are processed and given context in the process of pain perception. Through modulation, the brain can modify the sending of further nerve impulses by decreasing or increasing the release of neurotransmitters.
Pain on the outside of the hip is most commonly due to greater trochanteric bursitis. The greater trochanter is the protrusion where the thigh bone juts outward at the base of the neck (which connects the ball to the femur and is the site of hip stress fractures). A lubricating sac (or bursa) lies over the boney protrusion so that the surrounding muscles do not rub directly on the bone. The top region of the iliotibial (IT) band, known as the tensor fascia lata, is commonly involved in greater trochanteric bursitis.
Pregnancy commonly leads to low back pain by mechanically stressing the lumbar spine (changing the normal lumbar curvature) and by the positioning of the baby inside of the abdomen. Additionally, the effects of the female hormone estrogen and the ligament-loosening hormone relaxin may contribute to loosening of the ligaments and structures of the back. Pelvic-tilt exercises and stretches are often recommended for relieving this pain. Women are also recommended to maintain physical conditioning during pregnancy according to their doctors' advice. Natural labor can also cause low back pain.
Meanwhile, it’s extremely common for non-life-threatening low back pain to be alarmingly severe and persistent — to have a loud bark! Your doctor may not appreciate how true this is, and may over-react to all persistent low back pain, even without other red flags. In most cases, you shouldn’t let them scare you. Being “freaked out” about persistent back pain is the real threat: it can make low back pain much worse, and much more likely to last even longer (a tragic irony).
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.” Click Here to Learn Unlock Hip Flexors