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      What is lower back pain? Low back pain (LBP) is often described as sudden, sharp, persistent, or dull pain felt below the waist. LBP is very common and affects the majority of people at some point during their life. Low back pain is most commonly caused by muscle strain associated with heavy physical work, lifting or forceful movement, bending or twisting, awkward positions, or standing in one position too long. Any of these movements can exacerbate a prior or existing low back disorder.

      Other conditions that can cause low back pain include:
  • Lumbar herniated disc
  • Spinal stenosis
  • arthristis (osteoarthritis)
  • spinal infection (benign and malignant)
  • spondylolisthesis)
  • vertebral fractures (eg, burst fracture).

Low Back Anatomy Lesson

Understanding the anatomy of your spine will help you better understand what's causing your low back pain.

Your low back, which is called your lumbar spine in medical-speak, is made up of many parts.

There are 5 lumbar vertebrae—the bones of your spine. They are labelled L1 through L5. Your lubmar spine vertebrae are the largest vertebrae in the spine; this is what enables them to play a large role in carrying and distributing your weight.

On the posterior (back) side of your vertebrae, you have facet joints. As with all joints, the facets help facilitate safe movement. In your lumbar spine, they are particularly important to your flexibility (how far forward and back you can bend).

The intervertebral discs are in between your vertebrae (as the name would suggest). Their function is to absorb your movements; in a way, they are like the shocks on your car. Intervertebral discs have a tire-like outer section, which is the annulus fibrosus. They also have an inner section filled with a gel-like substance, and that is called the nucleus pulposus.

Another important part of your spine are the spinal nerves. The spinal cord travels down from the brain in the spinal canal, a protective tunnel made by the vertebrae and discs. Branching off from the spinal cord are the spinal nerves. In the lumbar spine, the spinal cord has become a bundle of nerves called the cauda equina; nerves there branch out to the legs. These nerves help you feel and move.

The other "soft tissues" of the lumbar spine are the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. The muscles, ligaments, and tendons support your spine and make it so you can move, lift, twist, etc. safely.

As you can see, your lumbar spine is complex, and injury or change to any of these parts can lead to lower back pain.


Lower Back Pain Symptoms


Low back pain is either acute or chronic. Acute lower back pain may begin suddenly with intense pain usually lasting less than 3 months.

Chronic low back pain is persistent long-term pain, sometimes lasting throughout life. Even chronic pain may present episodes of acute pain.

Other symptoms include localized pain in a specific area of the low back, general aching, and/or pain that radiates into the low back, buttocks, and leg(s). Sometimes pain is accompanied by neurologic symptoms such as numbness, tingling, or weakness.

Neurologic symptoms requiring immediate medical attention include:

  • bowel or bladder dysfunction
  • groin or leg weakness or numbness
  • severe symptoms that do not subside after a few days
  • pain prohibiting everyday activities


Common Lower Back Pain Questions


I'm experiencing acute low back pain; how do I know when I need to go see a doctor?

If you recently injured your low back (from lifting something improperly or even from sleeping poorly one night), you may be wondering: How long will this pain last? Is there anything I can do at home? When is it serious enough to warrant a visit to the doctor?

We have answers for you. In order to ease your symptoms, you can try:


  • ice and heat: For the first 24 to 48 hours after you hurt your back, use ice to reduce swelling, muscle spasms, and pain. After that, switch to heat, which will help warm and relax sore tissues. (Never put a source of heat or ice direclty on your skin; always wrap it in something.)
  • over-the-counter medications: Tylenol or Advil are some of your options.
  • taking it easy: Lengthy bedrest is no longer recommended as a treatment option for lower back pain, but you shouldn't exercise with the same intensity, for example. You may need to modify your daily routine in order to give your low back a chance to recover.

If your lower back pain persists and starts to interfere severely with your sleep or daily activities (such as your ability to work), you should visit a doctor. Other reasons to call a doctor include:

  • bowel or bladder problems (emergency situation)
  • leg weakness or numbness (emergency situation)

What is causing my lower back pain?

There are many spine conditions that could be causing your lower back pain, from muscle strain to a herniated disc. Your doctor should be able to make an accurate diagnosis, and that will enable him/her to develop a treatment plan for you.

Will I need surgery?

You may need surgery to address your lower back pain, but most likely, you will try non-surgical treatments first.


All Low Back Pain Articles

Lower Back Pain Center

Visit the SpineUniverse Lower Back Pain Center for spine expert-written articles on low back pain causes, treatments, exercises, and relief.

Lumbar Spine Surgery: Will You Need Surgery for Your Lower Back Pain?
You have lower back pain: Will you need surgery? Detailed article to help you understand your lower back pain treatment options.

The Best Exercises for Low Back Pain
What exercises should you do when you have lower back pain? Tips on what to do and what to avoid from a spine specialist.

Medications to Relieve Low Back Pain
Overview article of medications for low back pain relief. Includes links to more detailed articles. What will work for your lower back pain?

Epidural Corticosteroid Injections and Low Back Pain
How will an epidural steroid injection treat your low back pain? How many will you need? A pain specialist answers these questions.

Lower Back Pain Treatments
Lower back pain treatments overview from a spine specialist: medications, physical therapy, and spine surgery. What will help with your low back pain?

Finding Relief from Low Back Pain is a Challenge
What's the best way to find low back pain relief? Article reviewed by a spine expert gives you tips on the most effective lower back pain treatments.

Low Back and Pelvic Pain Treated Non-surgically with Progressive Resistance Exercise
Progressive resistance exercise helps patients with low back and pelvic pain to reach their rehab goals by gradually challenging muscles to strengthen. Should you try this?

5 Quick Tips to Help Prevent Lower Back Pain
Prevent lower back pain (or reduce your pain) with these 5 quick tips from a spine surgeon.

Low Back Pain Diagnosis
5 steps to a lower back pain diagnosis: What will the doctor do to find out what's causing your pain? Article written and reviewed by spine surgeons.

Trigger Point Spinal Injections for Low Back Pain
If you have muscle-related lower back pain, your doctor may recommend a trigger point injection. How will it work? How many will you need? Find answers here.

Facet Injections for Low Back Pain
Learn the goal of facet joint injections for low back pain. When should this be recommended? Pain specialist-written article.

Turning Back Pain and Sciatica Upside Down
Should you try an inversion table for your low back pain and sciatica? Learn more in this article on this back pain treatment option.

Why Does My Back Always Hurt?
Article from physical therapists on 4 things you can do today to reduce or prevent low back pain. Small changes can make a difference in your pain relief.

5 Ways to Manage Back Pain
Low back pain is common, but if you have it, know that it does not have to control your life. Find out 5 quick and easy ways to relieve back pain today.

Lumbar Radiculopathy: Proper Diagnosis Key to Effective Treatment of Back and Leg Pain
Low back pain with leg pain (sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy): how it's diagnosed and treated. Read about what may provide pain relief for you.

Lumbar Radiculopathy: Low Back and Leg Pain
Lower back pain and leg pain (sciatica or lumbar radiculopathy) can go hand-in-hand. Why is that? What causes sciatica, and how is it related to your low back?

Conclusion: Acute Low Back Pain and Medication
Lower back pain can be treated with medications: a spine expert wrote an article on low back pain medications. Read it to learn your treatment options.

Colchicine in the Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain
Colchicine is normally used for gout: can it really help with acute low back pain? Learn in this pain management specialist-written article.

Corticosteroids in the Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain
Focus on corticosteroids for acute low back pain: Will they relieve your pain? Detailed article written by a doctor reviews research and side effects.

Muscle Relaxants in the Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain
You may have been given a muscle relaxant for your acute low back pain. Why are they used? Learn in this doctor-written article.

Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) in the Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain
Should you try NSAIDs for acute lower back pain? Article filled with medical research and written by a pain management specialist.

Acetaminophen in the Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain
For low back pain, acetaminophen can be effectively used as an analgesic (or pain killer). Doctor-written article on acetaminophen as a pain reliever for lower back pain.

Medication and Treatment of Acute Low Back Pain
A doctor reviews the most common medications used to treat acute lower back pain. What will work for your pain?

Cold Weather Work May Raise Your Back and Neck Pain Risk
A recent study published online explored whether working in a low-temperature environment affected the risk of neck and lower back problems in construction workers.

Does Drinking Alcohol Lead to Lower Back Pain?
Is there an association between a person’s alcohol consumption and their risk for developing lower back pain? Read the results of this recent study.

Want to Fix Your Back Pain?
How well you get along with your physical therapist may determine how much lower back pain relief you experience: read results on this interesting low back pain study here.

Is Acupuncture Effective in Treating Lower Back Pain?
A recent study set out to explore the effectiveness of acupuncture in treating low back pain. Read the latest findings on this topic here.

Is Your Job Hurting Your Back?
A recent study sheds light on the ways that low back pain may be caused by something you do every single day—going to work.

Should You Try Pilates for Lower Back Pain?
Researchers in Brazil set out to test the usefulness of Pilates in the treatment of lower back pain. Check out the results of this recent study.

Low Back Pain Animation
Watch this animation to learn more about low back pain: what are the different types of low back pain? Which type do you have? What kind of back pain treatments will you need?

Preventing Chronic Low Back Pain
The benefits of lumbar strengthening exercise is long-lasting and includes greater muscle strength, increased bone density, endurance, and flexibility.