Almost everyone experiences low back pain every now and then. Whether mild or severe, lasting a short time or for years, low back pain can greatly affect your daily life. When low back pain strikes, how do you go to work? Take care of your kids? Clean the house?
It's not easy, but you can be proactive when it comes to managing your low back pain. Before you take steps to ease low back pain, it's helpful to understand the causes and symptoms of low back pain.
Causes of Low Back Pain
Many factors can contribute to low back pain -- from strained muscles to strained "nerves" An acute injury -- lifting and twisting a heavy load, for example -- can lead to low back pain. And, over time, aging causes degenerative spinal changes starting as early as the 30s or sooner. Here's a quick overview of low back pain culprits:
- Overuse of muscles and ligaments, caused by a competitive tennis match or an ambitious day in the garden.
- Disk injury, tears or other damage to the "shock absorbers" between the spinal bones (vertebrae).
- Disk degeneration, the wear and tear, shrinking, and collapse of disks that can be more common with age.
- Degenerative spondylolisthesis, changes to spinal structures, which allows a vertebra to slip forward from the next vertebra.
- Spinal stenosis, narrowing of the space around the spinal cord, which puts pressure on nerve roots.
- Scoliosis, an abnormal curvature of the spine that may cause pain for some people.
Low Back Pain Symptoms
Low back pain symptoms vary greatly from person to person. They are different depending upon the cause of the pain. Your pain may be dull or sharp. It may come and go. And depending upon its source, pain may get worse with standing, sitting, bending, or walking. Pain can even extend into your buttock or leg. Along with this shooting pain may come feelings of numbness, tingling, or weakness down your leg. Called sciatica, these symptoms may be a common result of a herniated disk in the lower back, where the disk bulges out toward the spinal canal.
Low Back Pain: What You Can Do
Listen to your body. If a certain movement or exercise causes pain, stop and pay attention. Discuss with your doctor or other health care professional what movements are safe for you to do. Here are a few reminders about what you can do to protect your back:
Rest, but not too much. In most cases, it's best to not stay in bed for more than a day or two after an acute injury. If you stay in bed longer than this, your muscles start to lose strength and their ability to support your back. Stay as active as you can, while continuing to listen to your body's signals.