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
To understand various causes of low back pain, it is important to appreciate the normal design (anatomy) of the tissues of this area of the body. Important structures of the low back that can be related to symptoms in this region include the bony lumbar spine (vertebrae, singular = vertebra), discs between the vertebrae, ligaments around the spine and discs, spinal cord and nerves, muscles of the low back, internal organs of the pelvis and abdomen, and the skin covering the lumbar area.
"Lower back pain is the most common musculoskeletal ailment in the U.S., and can often be mitigated by strengthening the core musculature," Blake Dircksen, D.P.T., C.S.C.S., a physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments New York, tells SELF. "The 'core' is a cylinder of abdominal and back muscles that wraps around the body like a corset," Dircksen explains. (The glutes are also considered a part of the core, since they connect to the pelvis and ultimately the back and abdominal muscles.) As with any muscles, by strengthening them, you will increase the amount of weight your lower back can comfortably move, which means it will be better equipped to handle the same stress from your workouts and everyday life without getting as achey.
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.”
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.
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.
Try Atrogel: Atrogel is amazing when it comes to soothing and easing pain, helping to relieve muscle aches, stiffness and bruising. It’s prepared using extracts of fresh arnica flowers and can be applied up to 4 times a day! Suitable for pregnant women and children, simply apply this lovely non-greasy formula to the affected area for some much-needed relief!
Physical activity can also help you feel better. “Along with boosting your overall health, exercise can improve your OA symptoms” like pain, stiffness, fatigue, and even depression, says Leigh F. Callahan, PhD, associate director of the University of North Carolina Thurston Arthritis Research Center. One study found that people with knee OA who worked out regularly lowered their pain by 12% compared to those who didn’t.
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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.
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.
Start kneeling on your mat with knees hip-width apart and hips directly over knees. Press your shins and the tops of your feet into the mat. Bring your hands to your low back, fingers pointing down, and rest palms above glutes. Inhale and lift your chest, and then slowly start to lean your torso back. From here, bring your right hand to rest on your right heel and then your left hand to your left heel. (If you can't reach your heels, turn your toes under; it will be easier to reach your heels in this modification.) Press your thighs forward so they are perpendicular to the floor. Keep your head in a relatively neutral position or, if it doesn't strain your neck, drop it back. Hold for 30 seconds. To come out of the pose, bring your hands to your hips and slowly, leading with your chest, lift your torso as you press the thighs down toward the floor.
The side of the pain on its own doesn’t tell us much, and most of the one-sided sources of pain are viscera that usually cause abdominal pain instead of back pain, or in addition to it. In other words, the only reason to worry about right or left lower back pain is if it is otherwise worrisome: if you have other red flags or significant non-back symptoms.
Hip pain is a common symptom experienced by many people. This condition can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that limits activities of daily living or functional mobility. Hip pain may prevent you from enjoying your normal work and recreational activities. When you visit a PT for hip pain, he or she will likely investigate the cause of your pain to help treat it properly.
Initial management with non–medication based treatments is recommended. NSAIDs are recommended if these are not sufficiently effective. Normal activity should be continued as much as the pain allows. Medications are recommended for the duration that they are helpful. A number of other options are available for those who do not improve with usual treatment. Opioids may be useful if simple pain medications are not enough, but they are not generally recommended due to side effects. Surgery may be beneficial for those with disc-related chronic pain and disability or spinal stenosis. No clear benefit has been found for other cases of non-specific low back pain. Low back pain often affects mood, which may be improved by counseling or antidepressants. Additionally, there are many alternative medicine therapies, including the Alexander technique and herbal remedies, but there is not enough evidence to recommend them confidently. The evidence for chiropractic care and spinal manipulation is mixed.
Low back pain may be classified based on the signs and symptoms. Diffuse pain that does not change in response to particular movements, and is localized to the lower back without radiating beyond the buttocks, is classified as nonspecific, the most common classification. Pain that radiates down the leg below the knee, is located on one side (in the case of disc herniation), or is on both sides (in spinal stenosis), and changes in severity in response to certain positions or maneuvers is radicular, making up 7% of cases. Pain that is accompanied by red flags such as trauma, fever, a history of cancer or significant muscle weakness may indicate a more serious underlying problem and is classified as needing urgent or specialized attention.
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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Degenerative disc disease. At birth, intervertebral discs are full of water and at their healthiest. As people age over time, discs lose hydration and wear down. As the disc loses hydration, it cannot resist forces as well, and transfers force to the disc wall that may develop tears and cause pain or weakening that can lead to a herniation. The disc can also collapse and contribute to stenosis.
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.
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.
Imaging is indicated when there are red flags, ongoing neurological symptoms that do not resolve, or ongoing or worsening pain. In particular, early use of imaging (either MRI or CT) is recommended for suspected cancer, infection, or cauda equina syndrome. MRI is slightly better than CT for identifying disc disease; the two technologies are equally useful for diagnosing spinal stenosis. Only a few physical diagnostic tests are helpful. The straight leg raise test is almost always positive in those with disc herniation. Lumbar provocative discography may be useful to identify a specific disc causing pain in those with chronic high levels of low back pain. Similarly, therapeutic procedures such as nerve blocks can be used to determine a specific source of pain. Some evidence supports the use of facet joint injections, transforminal epidural injections and sacroilliac injections as diagnostic tests. Most other physical tests, such as evaluating for scoliosis, muscle weakness or wasting, and impaired reflexes, are of little use.
Stop listening to other people’s horror stories. You know the scenario: You are bent over in obvious pain, waiting to see the doctor, and the person next to you tells you a 10-minute tale of how their Uncle Gordon had low back pain that required injections and surgery. But the pain still didn’t go away. Stop listening to these terrible stories. Most low back pain is short-lived and can be managed quite effectively with exercise and postural correction. Of course, some low back conditions are serious and require surgery, but that is a conversation you should have with your doctor, not the guy in the waiting room.
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.
Disk tear. Small tears to the outer part of the disk (annulus) sometimes occur with aging. Some people with disk tears have no pain at all. Others can have pain that lasts for weeks, months, or even longer. A small number of people may develop constant pain that lasts for years and is quite disabling. Why some people have pain and others do not is not well understood.
Epidural injections of steroid drugs are frequently used to treat sciatica, despite limited evidence for their effectiveness. Moreover, these treatments are based on the assumption that reducing local inflammation in the vertebral column will relieve pain, but an association between structural abnormalities, inflammation, and sciatica symptoms has not been clearly demonstrated. NINDS-funded researchers are using a new imaging technique that can detect inflammation to better understand what causes chronic sciatica pain and to provide evidence to inform treatment selection.
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.