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Should I Be Worried About My Lower Back Pain?

Man holding lower back in pain

Lower back pain is one of the most frequently reported pain conditions amongst adults, especially above a certain age. But lower back pain can occur anytime without any apparent injury or cause.

So, what’s going on?

The good news is, in most cases, lower back pain is not severe and generally wears off with rest in a couple of days.

However, in some instances, it does require the attention of a physical therapist or your family physician.

Unlike the mid-back and neck – which have many, the lower portion of the back is made up of only five vertebrae. However, we require these five vertebrae to carry a lot of weight. The lower back is also where the spine and the pelvic connect. The weight of our upper torso rests upon them too.

So, it's easy to see why the lower back undergoes tremendous stress from our continuous movement, which can lead to injuries and wear and tear over time. 

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What Are The Symptoms Of Lower Back Pain?

Man suffering from low back pain

They’re different for everyone. But most commonly:

  • A dull ache in the lower section of the back
  • Intermittent, sharp, stabbing pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Pain that radiates from the lower back into the hips, buttocks, or legs
  • Pain that gets worse (or stiffer) after periods of inactivity
  • Pain that gets better when you change your position – like sitting to standing or bending forwards or backward
  •  Pain that is worse first thing in the morning 

What Causes Lower Back Pain?

Woman with lower back pain

So many things can cause lower back pain. That’s why you need a complete physical evaluation by a physical therapist to find the cause of your specific set of symptoms.

But some of the most common reasons for pain in that area are:

Spinal Arthritis

The gradual wearing away of the spinal joints leads to spinal arthritis, the most common reason for lower back pain. With age, most people (who don’t have physical therapy) start to experience some form of wear and tear of the body's joints.

Considering the movement and stresses the lower back must endure over the years, it is not unusual for it to start to degenerate. When the protective cartilage between the joints wears off, it can lead to inflammation of the connective tissues in the lower back.

This wearing-off, combined with inflammation, increases joint friction, leading to lower back pain.  

Herniated Disks

Anyone suffering from a herniated disk that sticks out from its regular position is at risk of lower back pain. This causative factor is more common in the lower region of the back.

While the disk itself may not cause any pain, it can radiate pain to other spots when it encounters surrounding nerves.  

Injury To The Back

Any traumatic injury to the lower back, like a fall or an accident, can become a cause of lower back pain. While some of these injuries manifest back pain suddenly, others may take time to become symptomatic.

Contrary to popular belief, sports players and athletes are more at risk from lower back injuries because of increased physical activity levels.

Every day individuals are equally at risk as they can get injured carrying out daily tasks if not done correctly.   

How The Modern Lifestyle Causes Lower Back Pain

Obese man being measured by doctor

Unfortunately, one of the leading causes of lower back pain and other types of chronic pain is obesity.

Why? Because if you have a raised BMI (body mass index), your body experiences more significant stress on the spine, which leads to an increase in the natural progression of "wear and tear."

Also, people with low levels of physical activity and a sedentary lifestyle – like many people today - are much more susceptible to pain in the lower back.

Although conversely, an over-strenuous lifestyle and vigorous exercise routine can also increase the risk of pain in the lower back. So, the key to preventing lower back pain and other injuries is to find a happy medium between too much exercise and too little. 

Medical research has also found a link between lower back pain and smoking, as it can increase inflammation and interferes with the body’s natural healing process. So, if you smoke and have lower back pain, the best advice is to quit right now.

But one of the most common aspects of modern life that causes lower back pain is the time spent on computers and laptops. Or scrolling on social media – without care or attention given to our posture.

These activities all put stress and strain on the back and weaken the lower back muscles, which can result in lower back pain.

To avoid this type of strain on the back, make sure you get up and move around regularly. Try not to sit in one position for more than 20 minutes at a time, and do at least 30 minutes of exercise three times per week. 

Does The Weather Have Any Effect On Lower Back Pain?

Woman holding an umbrella in strong winds

On dull, wet, and windy days. When the sky is overcast or mercury dips, it is not uncommon to hear people comment that their back pain or other chronic pain is more intense.

The fact is that pain of all types, including lower back pain, can sometimes be affected by a drop in temperature and barometric pressure. This connection with the weather is especially severe if you suffer from arthritic pain.

Many patients feel their arthritis pain intensify in stormy weather. When the weather changes quickly, both joints and muscles can stiffen and are prone to more inflammation and pain. 

Can Kidney Problems Cause Lower Back Pain?

image of human kidneys

We get asked this question a lot by patients with lower back pain who are worried that it might be a sign of a problem with their kidneys.

So, while it is true that kidney pain can appear in the lower back area – as your kidneys are around this area. In most cases, it's unlikely that a kidney problem is the source of your pain.

But if you are worried and have other symptoms indicative of kidney problems, please consult a doctor.  

What Does It Mean If Lower Back Pain Travels into Legs?

Leg pain as a result of lower back pain

It's common for pain in the lower back to travel to other parts of the body from the point where it originates.

This radiating pain commonly happens on one side of the lower back and legs. When lower back pain radiates down into one or both legs, it may be symptomatic of a nerve-related condition called Sciatica.

Although, there are many other causes of lower back pain traveling to the legs. Such as inflammation of the sacroiliac of facet joints in the hips or inflammation of the surrounding muscles or bursa, as is the case in "bursitis."

We can quickly and easily identify whether any of these conditions are the case for you. 

Can Lower Back Pain Be A Symptom Of Something More Serious?

Woman seeing a doctor to find the cause of her back pain

In rare cases, pain in the lower back can be a cancer symptom.

For example, after prostate cancer metastasizes and causes lesions, lower back pain can be a symptom. Soft tissue sarcomas can also develop in this area.

Unfortunately, practically every type of tumor can affect the back.

But to put your mind at ease, your lower back symptoms are much more likely to be the result of weak back muscles and poor posture than something like cancer.

It's essential to find the root cause and rule out underlying medical conditions by consulting with a physical therapist who can identify exactly what's happening. 

How To Treat Lower Back Pain

Physical Therapy Treating Back Pain

If you have lower back pain, it's a good idea to start tracking it. That includes noting the activities that increase your discomfort and intensify symptoms, along with the time of the day and the date it starts. 

If your pain doesn’t go away, this information can be helpful for us and/or your doctor to identify what the root cause might be and make a quicker diagnosis. 

But meanwhile, if you notice that any type of movement of specific activity increases your symptoms, try reducing that activity for a while and using a hot/cold pack to alleviate the pain.

You can also try OTC medications for a short time, but we would not recommend this strategy for more than 3 days. They don’t fix the issue; they only mask the pain. 

In most cases, lower back pain will go away independently with adequate rest and ice/heat packs.

However, if it persists for more than seven days or the intensity of the pain gets worse.

We recommend you Book A Free Consultation with one of our physical therapists.

We specialize in back pain here at Focus PT and we want to help you, you can apply for a Free Discovery Visit to see if we're the right fit for you.

We can identify and treat the root cause, help you avoid painkilling medication, and prevent more severe problems later. 

Click here to claim your Free Back Pain Guide. 

Dr Brad Conder

Dr Brad Conder

Dr. Brad Conder is the owner of Focus Physical Therapy. He is board-certified in orthopedic physical therapy and has been a practicing physical therapist for 12 years. Brad has experience in outpatients orthopedics, industrial onsite medicine, hospital physical therapy, and home health physical therapy. Brad got his physical therapy degree from the University of Kentucky in 2004 and his doctorate in physical therapy from Regis University in 2007. Dr Conder’s primary experience is in outpatient orthopedics, and he has a particular interest in manual physical therapy, including dry needling, Maitland style manual techniques, and industrial onsite medicine.
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