July 24, 2017
3 min read

Low back pain: What you should know

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Four out of five adults will experience low back pain at some point. Considered one of the most common causes of people missing work, low back pain is classified as either acute or chronic. Acute low back pain tends to occur quickly and generally lasts for up to 6 weeks. Chronic low back pain tends to last for 3 months or more and is less common than acute cases.

Causes of low back pain

The cause of back pain is generally unknown, but sprains and strains are among the most common reasons the condition occurs. In some instances, low back pain is associated with spondylosis — the general degeneration of the spine associated with normal wear and tear that occurs in the joints, discs and bones of the spine as people age.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, other causes of lower back pain include:

  • radiculopathy;
  • sciatica;
  • spondylolisthesis;
  • traumatic injury;
  • spinal stenosis; and
  • skeletal irregularities.

The pain is rarely associated with any serious underlying conditions. But if a serious underlying condition is the root cause for the pain, immediate medical attention is recommended.

Serious underlying conditions can include:

  • infection;
  • tumors;
  • cauda equine syndrome;
  • abdominal aortic aneurysms; and
  • kidney stones.

Further, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has identified other instances that predispose individuals to low back pain:

  • endometriosis;
  • fibromyalgia;
  • inflammatory diseases of the joints; and
  • osteoporosis.

Risk factors for low back pain

Any child, teenager or adult can develop back pain. Although research has yet to identify the direct contributors of back pain, several factors are believed to put individuals at an increased risk for the condition. Obesity — or excessive weight — is considered a risk factor for low back pain. The excess weight tends to put added stress on an individual’s back.

According to the Mayo Clinic, additional risk factors for low back pain include:

  • age;
  • diseases;
  • improper form when lifting heavy objects;
  • lack of exercise;
  • occupational risk factors;
  • psychological conditions; and
  • smoking.

Home remedies for back pain

Treating low back pain tends to depend on whether the pain is acute or chronic. Surgery is usually only recommended if there is evidence of continued nerve damage and when diagnostics indicate structural changes requiring correction. Individuals suffering from low back pain can use hot and cold packs. Although this method has never been proven to resolve low pain quickly, it may help ease pain and reduce inflammation. Stretching exercises and continuing normal daily activities as soon as possible are also recommended to treat low back pain at home. Some people may consider bed rest as a form of treatment, however it is recommended to stretch and remain active — while avoiding movements that aggravate pain — because bed rest alone may lead to secondary complications including depression and blood clots in the legs.


Treat ing low back pain

If home remedies do not resolve the instance of back pain, it is recommended to participate in physical therapy programs to improve mobility and flexibility, and promote proper positioning and posture. Individuals may take medication that is either available over-the-counter or prescribed by a physician to treat the occurrence of pain. Potential medications individuals with low back pain may benefit from include:

  • analgesic medications;
  • antidepressants;
  • anticonvulsants;
  • counter-irritants; and
  • nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Other approaches that may be used to treat the condition include:

  • acupuncture;
  • biofeedback;
  • epidural steroid injections;
  • nerve block therapies; and
  • transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation.


Surgery is considered only when all other therapies fail and only when it is deemed necessary by a doctor. A patient must know that it may take months after the surgery before they are fully healed, and there is a risk for permanent loss of flexibility. Individuals should also know that surgeries are not always successful and that they should consult with a doctor regarding all related risks associated with the procedure.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, surgical procedures include:

  • artificial disc replacement;
  • discectomy or microdiscectomy;
  • foraminotomy;
  • intradiscal electrothermal therapy;
  • nucleoplasty;
  • spinal fusion; and
  • spinal laminectomy.

Additional information can be found on these websites: