There is a price that we pay for walking upright, and that is namely lower back pain. About 80% of the adult population has back pain at some point in their lives. The pain varies from mild achiness to disabling, tear-drawing, searing pain. The cause of back pain is often due to weakness of the core musculature and tightness of the muscles along the spine. Also, tightness of the hamstrings can cause back pain or exacerbate the pain. It is very important to keep your abdominal muscles strong and your hamstrings stretched to prevent and even to treat back pain.
Besides the pain, it is important to treat nerve symptoms. If you are having back pain that shoots down your leg, that could be a sign of something much more serious. A herniated disc can actually put pressure on one of your nerves, which will not only cause tremendous pain, but can lead to irreparable damage to the nerve. If you have weakness or tingling down your leg, immediately call an orthopedic specialist and get it checked. Fortunately, most people with a herniated disc do not need surgery. Therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and walking can often relieve the symptoms. Do not sit or lie down in one position too long as the muscle spasm will just get worse and cause more pain when you try to move.
As with most medical problems, getting the correct diagnosis is important. Back pain has many causes and I have diagnosed people with fractures and cancer who present with just with lower back pain. There are signs on physical exam that help identify where the pain is coming from. An MRI is a great test for identifying herniated discs. Simple x-rays will show fractures and arthritis. CT scans may be helpful as well, but we try and avoid getting them, as there is much higher radiation from this test.
If you have mild back pain, stretch out and walk around. Take Advil or another anti-inflammatory medications and give it a few days. If you don’t get better, the pain gets worse, or you have any nerve symptoms going down your leg, go see you orthopedic specialist.
Rick Weinstein, MD, MBA Director of Orthopedic Surgery Westchester Health Associates