Low back pain is a universal problem that affects most people at one time or another. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that back pain affects 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives. You may have acute back pain that comes on suddenly and is gone in a few days or a few weeks. Chronic low back pain is the term for back pain that lasts more than three months. Low back pain symptoms can range from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp pain.
Low back pain usually goes away on its own in two to three weeks with a little help from over-the-counter pain medications and rest, but chronic low back pain needs the help of a spine specialist to diagnose it accurately and give you the relief you need.
How Your Spine Works
When you ask, "Why do I have low back pain?" the answer isn't always obvious due to your spine's complex anatomy. The spine is made up of small bones called vertebrae which are stacked on top of one another. Between them, inter-vertebral discs act as shock absorbers cushioning the vertebrae and preventing them from rubbing against each other. The spinal column is made up of three areas that create three natural curves in your back:
The spinal column protects your spinal cord, a complex center of "electrical cables" that carry messages between your brain and muscles. Nerves branch out from your spinal cord through openings in the vertebrae and carry specific messages to different parts of your body.
Muscles and ligaments (tough, fibrous rope-like bands of tissue) support and stabilize your spine and upper body. The ligaments connect your vertebrae to help keep your spinal column in position. Between the vertebrae, there are small joints (facet joints) that help you spine move.
Low Back Pain Symptoms
Depending on the source of your low back pain, you may experience any of these symptoms:
Low Back Pain Causes
The leading cause of most acute low back pain is trauma to the lower back or a disorder such as arthritis. Pain may be caused by a sports injury, working around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident or fall. In most cases, low back pain may be a symptom of many different causes, including one of more of the following:
Treatment for Low Back Pain
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (National Institutes of Health), reports that most low back pain can be treated without surgery with a combination of pain relievers to reduce discomfort, anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce inflammation, rest and exercise. However, you should contact your doctor if you don't feel a noticeable reduction in pain and inflammation after 72 hours of self-care. Consult a spine specialist to ensure that you receive an accurate diagnosis and the proper treatment plan. When nonsurgical treatment is unsuccessful, your doctor may recommend spine surgery.
The multidisciplinary team of orthopaedic experts at North Shore-LIJ Orthopaedic Institute's Spine Services in New York treats low back pain as well as a broad range of spine conditions that can occur at any stage of life.