Lower back pain is extremely common, especially in adults between the ages of 30 and 50, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Discomfort in the lower back can be chronic or ongoing, or a sudden and brief condition known as acute pain.
Causes of lower back pain includemuscle pulls and spasms, nerve irritation, and spinal abnormalities such as a slipped disk and spinal stenosis. Treatment options for lower back pain range widely according to the cause of the condition. Read on to learn more.
Rest your lower back to counter the pain. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, this may simply mean reducing your level of activity for a couple of days, or full bed rest. Lying on your back with a pillow under your knees helps keep your back in a neutral or natural position. You might also find lying on the floor with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle and propped on a chair relieves some of your pain. However, don’t rest for too long—many cases of lower back pain resolve themselves within two days. Longer periods of inactivity can actually cause your muscles to weaken.
Heat or Ice
Attack lower back pain with a hot or cold compress. According to NINDS, anecdotal evidence suggests that using heat and ice packs can increase your mobility and reduce pain. Place a bag of ice or frozen vegetables—wrapped in a towel to protect your skin from frostbite—on the tender areas of your lower back to reduce inflammation. You can safely use ice several times daily for 20 minutes at a time.
Switch to heat after a couple of days of cold treatment, in the form of a heating pad or warm bath. The warmth will loosen the tight muscles that are causing your pain. Turn off the heating pad before falling asleep to reduce the risk of burns.
Your doctor might prescribe stronger medication to relieve chronic lower back pain that doesn’t abate with the use of OTC medicines. Antidepressants, narcotics such as codeine, and anticonvulsant drugs may be used to treat lower back pain. Nerve pain such as sciatica, which results from a bulging disk in the lower back, can be difficult to treat with oral medications. For this type of discomfort, corticosteroids and anesthetic medications are injected into the affected nerve root to reduce inflammation. Once the swelling of the nerve decreases, you should find some relief.
Alternative medicine for lower back pain includes the use of chiropractic care and acupuncture. Chiropractics is the practice of manually realigning the spine and other weak or injured areas of the musculoskeletal system. Acupunctureis the ancient Chinese art of treating illness and injury through the manipulation of pressure points. Fine needles are sterilized and inserted into your skin at specific points across the body in an effort to realign your life’s spirit, called “qi,” and reduce pain.
Chronic, severe back pain requires surgery in relatively few people, but remains an option when all else fails. Small fragments of disk that have broken off or disintegrated can be removed surgically to take pressure off nerve paths. Injured or abnormal vertebrae that cause lower back pain may be fused together to straighten your back and help you regain mobility. Back surgery, as with any other surgical procedure, carries risks and is used only as a last resort.