Useful facts and pocket guide to Low Back (Lumbar) Pain

August 10, 2017

By Cathy J Leer, PT, MBA

Did you know that the spine is made up of 3 primary areas? The neck region is called cervical. The mid back is called thoracic. The low back is called lumbar. Pain in the lumbar region is one of the primary causes of missed work, with symptoms ranging from dull aches to stabbing and shooting. It can be acute meaning sudden, or chronic meaning older than 3 months.

Generally speaking, you should see a medical provider if:

  • Pain lasts longer than 72 hrs.
  • Pain occurs after a fall or injury
  • You experience loss of bowel or bladder control
  • You experience leg weakness, or
  • You have pain with coughing or urinating

Some of the most common causes of back pain are:

  • Muscle strains
  • Herniated or bulging discs
  • Spinal stenosis i.e. narrowing of the space around the spinal cord
  • Spondylitis i.e. arthritis or inflammation of the spinal joints
  • fibromyalgia

Although pain from heavy lifting can is more likely a result of straining the muscles, it can also be a result of a disc bulge or rupture. When this happens, pressure can be put on the sciatic nerve and the pain may run down the buttock or the leg. This is widely referred to as sciatica.

Common activities that contribute to back pain include:

  • Falls
  • Injuries i.e. sporting, MVA, job accidents etc.
  • Lifting, pushing, or pulling
  • Prolonged sitting
  • Carrying heavy loads over one shoulder
  • Overuse i.e. work, play, chores
  • Postural issues i.e. slouching, leaning, standing asymmetrically (one sided)

Reasons contributing to or increasing your risk of back pain include:

  • Being overweight
  • Inactivity or inactive lifestyle
  • Jobs that require heavy or repetitive lifting
  • Genetics

Helpful Hints

  • Use heat (15 minute applications periodically) or ice (10 minute applications periodically) to relieve pain
  • Do not take more than 1 or 2 days of rest
  • Return to your normal activities as quickly as possible
  • Do things in moderation i.e. if you have an increase in symptoms either during or after an activity, then moderate or change something within that activity to allow you to perform the activity without experiencing that symptom
  • Stretch or perform yoga
  • Massage in combination with exercise and stretching can help relieve pain
  • OTC pain relievers such as acetaminophen (ex. Tylenol), Ibuprofen, or Naproxen (ex. Aleve)
  • Physical therapy for strengthening, stretching, conditioning and training in proper posture and body mechanics

Lower your risk of experiencing low back pain by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Exercising regularly to maintain strength, flexibility and overall cardiovascular conditioning
  • Lifting, pushing, and pulling using proper body mechanics i.e. USE YOUR LEGS
  • Avoiding repetitive activities
  • Avoiding prolonged positioning
  • Making sure that your work station or environment is set up properly and allows you to change positions or move around


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