One of the most common ailments that cause people to miss work is back pain. Our modern lives are increasingly being spent in front of computers and sitting for long periods of time. It, therefore, comes as no surprise that over 90% of the adult population of Australia has suffered from lower back pain at some point in their lives. Over 16% of the population suffer from some degree of recurrent back problems, making it the 2nd leading cause of disease burden overall in Australia.
There can be several causes and types of lower back pain. Let’s discuss the types first.
Types of Lower Back Pain:
- Mechanical: This type of back pain is usually caused by improper movement of the spinal structure, which includes the facet joints, vertebral bodies, ligaments, intervertebral discs, muscles and soft tissues. If your job requires regular bending and lifting or standing for long periods of time and you start experiencing back pain after every shift, this type of pain will most probably be classified as mechanical lower back pain.
- Organic: This type of back pain is more serious and is a result of health conditions like spinal cancer, ovarian cysts or uterine fibroids.
- Idiopathic: This type of back pain is the most common and is defined as lower back pain that cannot be attributed to any particular cause or specific pathology. It is also known as non-specific lower back pain.
Causes of Lower Back Pain:
There can be many different causes for your lower back pain, including but not limited to:
- Muscle or ligament strains.
- Structural problems with the spine
- Herniated discs
- Poor posture
- Injury to the spinal column
- Spondylolisthesis: a condition where a vertebra slips out of its position and compresses a nerve, affecting the spine’s alignment
- Natural degeneration of the spine due to age
- Kidney and bladder problems
Common Symptoms of Lower Back Pain:
Lower back pain can manifest itself in a range of intensities. Most people who complain about lower back pain report only mild to moderate symptoms, but for some people, it may become debilitating and start hindering their day-to-day activities. Here are some common symptoms associated with lower back pain:
- Dull, achy or throbbing pain in the lower back
- A stinging, burning pain that seems to travel from the lower back to the buttocks, the back of the thighs and in some cases, to the lower legs or feet. This is usually a sign of a compressed nerve or sciatica.
- Muscle tightness in the hips, pelvis, thighs and low back
- Pain that seems to get worse the longer you sit or stand
- Difficulty changing positions or being bent over because straightening up hurts your lower back
When to talk to a doctor online about back pain
Although most cases of back pain can be easily relieved with some prescription-strength or over the counter pain relief medication or muscle relaxants, if it persists for more than a few weeks, it is a good idea to talk to a doctor online about other treatment methods. In cases of mechanical lower back pain, you may be recommended some light physical therapy to ease the pain, help the spinal cord move as it should and relieve nerve compression. In severe cases, or if the doctor believes your back pain is being caused due to organic factors, you may be requested to get a series of tests like blood and urine tests, X-rays and CT scans to determine the cause of your back pain.
Luckily, in about 90% of cases, patients do not need extensive treatment for back pain. If over-the-counter pain medication is no longer working, you have tried your share of topical rubs and ointments as well as muscle relaxants, your doctor may suggest a cortisone steroid injection, especially if the pain is due to a compressed nerve. In rare cases, such as for patients with structural abnormalities or those who don’t respond to any type of non-surgical treatment, a doctor might suggest corrective surgery.
When your back pain might be serious
If your online doctor believes that your back pain is stemming from more serious causes, you may be asked to see a primary care physician in person for a physical assessment. If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms below, immediately seek emergency attention:
- Your back pain follows an injury, a fall or a blow to your back
- Is accompanied by a sudden loss of control on your bladder or bowel movements
- Numbness, tingling, feelings of pins and needles or weakness in one or both legs that doesn’t go away after a few minutes
- Unexplained weight loss
- Fever or vomiting
- Is accompanied by a dull, throbbing pain in your abdomen.
Regardless of whether your back pain has only started presenting itself or if it has persisted for years, if it is bothering you, it is a good idea to talk to a doctor online about possible causes and treatment methods. In most cases, making a few lifestyle changes, such as doing some targeted exercises, fixing your posture, eating more calcium and Vitamin D rich foods or supplements and changing your shoes could help ease symptoms.