Low back pain sends more people to the doctor than any other cause except for the common cold. Studies show that at least 65 million Americans experience back pain. The pain can be dull and achy or sharp and stabbing, and can affect any part of your neck or spine. The pain may start suddenly as a result of a fall or injury, or it could worsen gradually over time due to poor posture or lifestyle. People who smoke or are overweight tend to experience back pain more often than others.
If you’re experiencing pain in your low back, there are a number of ways to reduce or eliminate the pain. The first step is to see a doctor who knows what to look for and how to treat it. At Meli Orthopedic Centers of Excellence, Dr. Gayan Poovendran sees hundreds of patients in his orthopedic practice who are dealing with low back pain.
Here are 5 commonly asked questions about low back pain.
Why does my low back hurt?
The most common types of back pain are mechanical. These include muscle spasms and pulled muscles, ruptured or herniated discs, pinched nerves, and stress fractures. Poor posture and weak back muscles can also lead to low back pain, especially if you do a lot of sitting. More serious causes of back pain are structural, such as scoliosis, spinal stenosis, and spondylolisthesis, which are far less common.
When should I see a doctor for low back pain?
You should see a physician if you have been having persistent back pain for 2 weeks or longer, especially if the pain does not improve with gentle stretching, light activity, and oral anti-inflammatory medications. Additionally, people who are experiencing back pain for the first time and are over 50 or under 18, or have a history of cancer or steroid use, should have it checked out by a spine specialist.
See a doctor right away if you have back pain and:
- Pain in one or both legs, particularly below the knee
- Weakness in the legs
- Difficulty controlling your bowel or bladder
What does a doctor look for when diagnosing back pain?
Dr. Poovendran says the physical exam is a very important part of a low back pain evaluation. “I look for the patient’s walking pattern, and evidence of neurological compromise. I check strength, reflexes, flexibility.” X-rays are used to rule out arthritis, fractures, and other changes in the bone. If necessary, back pain can be investigated further using MRI or CT scans, which show changes in soft tissues that can’t be seen on an x-ray.
What are the treatment options?
95% of the time, back pain is not serious or permanent. As Dr. Poovendran explains, “the body has a remarkable ability to heal with conservative measures.” Too much pain medication (opiates) and rest can actually do more harm than good. Dr. Poovendran recommends physical therapy. He says, “physical therapy is imperative to address contributing causes and decrease the risk of recurrence.”
You might try some additional techniques to enhance the benefits of physical therapy, such as:
- Oral anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant medications
- Trigger point or epidural injections
- Temporary braces to support the spine
- Hydration therapy (to keep the discs healthy)
- Massage therapy
- Meditation and yoga
What else do I need to know about back pain?
Being as active as you can (gentle activity) actually facilitates healing and reduces back pain. It also keeps the muscles supporting the back strong, which may help prevent low back pain.
And, don’t smoke! Smoking has a negative effect on your body’s ability to deliver nutrients to the spine that are critical for healing.
Meli Orthopedic Centers of Excellence can offer non-surgical treatment options for back pain that you won’t find anywhere else. To schedule a low back pain evaluation please contact us or request an appointment online.