Low Back Pain is very common. In fact, 85% of individuals will have it in their lifetime. For most is is short lived, lasting only a few weeks, but for some, it can become a chronic or life-long discomfort. Although low back pain can be very painful and limiting, it is rarely harmful or dangerous.
As a rule, pain that stays in the back and does not spread down the legs is not something to worry about. On the other hand, pain that may start in the back, but travels down one or both legs and is associated with numbness or weakness warrants at least a discussion with one’s doctor to see if anything more serious is happening.
The diagnosis of low back pain is fairly straightforward and rarely needs imaging studies. For cases that last longer than a few months, or that have associated symptoms in the legs, imaging can be indicated.
Treatment for most low back pain includes time and exercise. Regular, low impact cardiovascular exercises such as swimming and cycling have been shown to decrease back pain over time when done 3-5 days per week for at least 30 minutes. Daily stretching, especially hamstrings, should also be done. Flexibility exercise, such as yoga, is also helpful. Exercise programs supervised by physical therapists can be tailored to the individual’s needs to get the best results. Chiropractic care can also be beneficial for many individuals.
Anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen or naproxen can help decrease pack pain and are generally safe. Always consult with your primary care physician when taking any new medication. Narcotic pain medicines and so called muscle relaxants are generally ineffective for anything but very short term use and often lead to problems due to their habit forming nature.
Surgery is rarely effective in treating low back pain without associated lower extremity symptoms.