Understanding Low Back Pain
Your "lumbar spine", or low back, is built up of five bones piled on top of each other with a shock-absorbing disc within each level. Your low back relies on tissues and ligaments for support. "Sprains" and "strains" are the outcome of these muscle fibres being pulled too hard or too far, much like a string that frays when it is extended beyond its normal capacity. The term "sprain" means that the tough, durable ligaments that hold your bones together have been injured, while "strain" means that your tissues or tendons that move your trunk have been partially torn.
Most people encounter low back pain at some point in their lifetime, and 70% of those cases can associate their symptoms with sprain/strain injuries. Lumbar sprains and strains may occur from unexpected or forceful movements like a fall, twist, lift, push, pull, direct blow, or quickly straightening up from a seated, crouched, or bent position. Most ordinarily, sprains and strains are not the outcome of any single event, but rather from repeated overloading. The spine can commonly manage small isolated stressors quite well, but repetitive challenges lead to injury in much the same way that constantly bending a piece of copper wire will cause it to break. Examples of these stressors include poor postures, sedentary lifestyles, poor-fitting workstations, repetitive movements, improper lifting, or being overweight.
Symptoms from a sprain/strain may occur abruptly but more generally develop steadily. Symptoms may range from dull discomfort to surprisingly debilitating pain that grows more acute when you move. Rest may reduce your symptoms but often leads to stiffness. The pain is usually centred in your lower back but can reach towards your hips or thighs. Be sure to tell your doctor if your pain continues beyond your knee, or if you have weakness in your lower extremities or a fever.
Sprain/strain injuries make your natural healthy elastic tissue to be returned with less elastic "scar tissue." This process can lead to continuous pain and even arthritis. Patients who elect to forego treatment and "just deal with it" improve chronic low back pain more than 60% of the time. Exploring early and appropriate treatment like the type given in our office is critical.
Depending on the severity of your pain, you may need to restrict your activity for a while, particularly bending, twisting, and lifting, or movements that cause pain. Bed rest is not in your best interest. You should remain active and return to regular activities as your symptoms warrant.
The short-term use of a lumbar assistance belt may be helpful. Sitting makes your back temporarily more vulnerable to sprains and strains from sudden or unexpected movements. Be certain to use "micro-breaks" from workstations for 10 seconds every 20 minutes. Following acute injuries, you can use ice for 15-20 minutes each hour. Heat may be necessary after several days or for more chronic origins of pain. Ask your doctor for particular ice/heat recommendations. Some patients report partial support and relief from sports creams.