Causes of Low Back Pain

Low back pain is a serious problem for a significant portion of the population. It is considered an epidemic, with a lifetime prevalence of 80%, with 50% of the population experiencing back pain this year. This pain results from a variety of issues and can become chronic if the underlying causes are left untreated. The majority of cases of low back pain respond favorably to conservative treatment. Physical therapy is recommended as a first line of treatment for patients suffering from this disorder.

Low back pain can arise from multiple sources, and can occur from an acute injury (such as a fall, a car accident, or lifting an object) or come on for no-known reason. There are multiple sources which cause low back pain, including joints, discs, ligaments, muscle, or ligament. The pain can be felt locally in the low back, or travel distally and be felt in the buttock, hip region, or down the leg sometimes all the way into the foot. When you experience pain in your low back or legs, it is the physical therapist’s job to evaluate you to determine where the pain is coming from and the appropriate treatment.

Disc injuries in the low back can significantly impede function and cause serious pain. They typically occur from bending/lifting with rotation, or from repetitive forward bending or poor posturing of the low back, which places excessive stress on the lumbar discs. This can cause local back pain and inflammation, and possibly lead to sciatica. Sciatica is specific, sharp-shooting pain, secondary to inflammation around an injured nerve that travels down the back of the leg into the foot. It can be accompanied by numbness/tingling in the leg, as well as muscular weakness. A physical therapist can accurately diagnose a disc injury, and assist the patient in decreasing the inflammation, manually treat specific lumbar spine dysfunctions, and improve the patient’s core strength and help get the patient back to normal activities.

Spinal stenosis is another compressive spinal issue that causes pain in the lower back. Lumbar spinal stenosis is a result of a narrowing of the spinal canal. This issue is usually part of the spinal degeneration that is typical among aging people. The narrowed canal compresses both the spinal cord and its nerves, leading to painful, numbing, or weakness sensations. Physical therapy techniques like manual traction, manual therapy to the hips and sacroiliac joints, postural education, specific core and hip strengthening exercises, and electrical nerve stimulation are all highly effective in helping treat spinal stenosis by improving the patient’s pain and function. These methods improve lumbar spine joint stress and take pressure off of the spinal nerves, and can significantly increase a patient’s mobility.

Physical therapy can alleviate or even eliminate pain in the lower back resulting from these common causes. Patients experiencing problems in the lumbar spine should visit a physical therapist as soon as possible. Physical therapy can be used to complement or possibly even replace costly medications and surgeries.