You’ve probably felt a dull ache, or a sharp or burning sensation in your lower back. You may have had chronic back pain or weakness in your leg, hip or the bottom of your foot. Back pain is not uncommon. The exact cause can be determined through examination and testing.
The lower back, or lumbar spine, starts at your lowest rib and reaches to the top of your pelvis. There are five vertebrae bones surrounding the spinal cord, with spongy, doughnut-shaped discs serving as cushions between the bones.
The spine naturally curves inward in the lumbar area. This curve, the lordosis, helps with balance and spreading the weight of your upper body over your legs and feet.
Chronic back pain causes may include:
- Degenerative disc disease
- Disc damage, such as herniated discs or bulging discs
- Certain medical conditions, such as fibromyalgia
- Small fractures to the spine from osteoporosis
- Strains or tears to the muscles or surrounding tissues that support the lower back
Maintaining a healthy weight, keeping your abdominal muscles strong and flexible, and using good posture are all keys to preventing chronic lower back pain.
Studies have linked smoking to lower back pain. Smoking is tied to atherosclerosis — plaque buildup in the arteries — and vascular damage to discs and joints may be a cause of lower back pain.
Whether at work or at home, pay attention to your seating. If you spend time at a desk in front of a computer, set the top of your screen at eye level. Consider a chair that supports your lower back, and set the height so your thighs are at hip level with your feet resting comfortably on the floor or a footrest. Consider a pair of computer glasses that allow you to focus without tilting your head to accommodate progressive lenses.
Chronic Back Pain Treatment
Your physician will examine your back and discuss your symptoms and medical history to help determine your diagnosis. Additional tests, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography (CT) scans also may be required to confirm a diagnosis.
Many nonsurgical treatments can eliminate back pain. Options include:
- Cold/heat therapy
- Therapy to help you better understand and manage your pain
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medication
- Physical therapy and occupational therapy
- Mental health therapy to help you cope with your condition
- Injections to reduce swelling around a nerve
Surgery is considered for patients who have not gotten relief or whose symptoms have worsened. Surgical options include:
- Surgical removal of slipped discs and/or bone spurs to relieve pressure on nerves
- Surgical fusion to stabilize the spine