Lower Back Pain
Most people will have at least one episode of low back pain during their lifetime. Although nearly 90% of cases improve or resolve on their own, sudden onset low back pain can last up to a few weeks and can be extremely frustrating when the pain interferes with daily life.
The vast majority (more than 85%) of cases of sudden-onset of lower back pain is not clearly caused by a specific disease, abnormality, or serious injury of the spine. People sometimes refer to “throwing out” their back following physical activity. This pain is often caused by a strain in the muscles of the lower back.
Some of the other musculoskeletal causes of acute low back pain include:
Strain or tears to the ligaments supporting the back
Ruptured or herniated disk
Compression fracture of spine
Traumatic injury to the muscle, ligament, or spine
Cancer involving the spine
Infection of the spine
When to see a doctor
Most muscle sprains of the lower back pain gradually improves with self care within a few weeks.
A doctor should evaluate the back pain if it:
Persists past a few weeks
Causes weakness, numbness, or tingling in one or both legs
Is severe and does not improve with rest
Spread down one or both legs, especially if the pain extends below the knee
Is accompanied by unexplained weight loss or if you have a history of cancer
Burning with urination or blood in the urine
Immediate medical evaluation should be sought if the back pain:
Causes new bowel or bladder problems
Is accompanied by a fever
Follows a fall, blow to back, or other injury
Evaluation of the back pain beings with a thorough clinical history and physical examination. Imaging studies such as X-ray, CT scan, or MRI of the lower spine are not routine but may be ordered to rule out specific causes of pain.
Self Care Management
Unless there are symptoms that warrant immediate medical evaluation or evaluation by a doctor, self care methods are helpful for the initial management of sudden onset lower back pain.
Self care management includes:
Apply ice to the area in the first 48 to 72 hours, then apply heat
Reduce physical activity for the first few days. Bed rest is not recommended, so continue activities as tolerated.
Take over-the-counter pain relievers. Do not exceed the recommended amount per package instructions.
Stress reduction with relaxation and meditation
If the low back pain worsens or does not improve after two to three weeks of home treatment, contact the doctor for evaluation and further treatment options.