LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Americans spend more than $50 billion a year on medical bills related to lower back pain. It is the most common reason to visit a doctor's office, affecting 90 percent of all Americans at some point in their lifetime. Lower back pain is second only to the common cold for missed work days.
In 85 percent of patients who receive a medical examination for back pain, no cause can be found. Lower back pain isn't a specific disease; it's a symptom.
What's even more perplexing is that the majority of people will improve within a few months, regardless of which treatment is used, to include no treatment at all.
Pain is the primary symptom. Pain may radiate down the front, side or back of the leg, or it may be confined to the lower back. The pain may become worse with activity and with prolonged sitting. Numbness or weakness in the part of the leg that receives its nerve supply may be caused by a compressed nerve.
Individuals should seek medical attention in an emergency room or urgent care center if any of the following symptoms or conditions are present:
- Recent trauma, such as a car accident
- Mild trauma, such as slipping and falling for persons over 50 years of age
- A history of prolonged steroid use
- Osteoporosis in persons older than 70
- A history of cancer
- A recent infection
- A temperature over 100 degrees
- IV drug use
- Lower back pain while at rest
- Unexplained weight loss
- An inability to walk, move your foot up and down, or walk on your toes or heels
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
To avoid injury, do not lift objects that are too heavy. When attempting to lift something, keep your back straight up and down, head up, and bend at the knees to prevent injury. Pick up objects close to you. Stooping over puts undue stress on the back and leads to injury. Tightening your stomach muscles also helps support your back muscles and reduces back strain.
Exercise and healthy weight are important for overall health. High impact activities increase the likelihood of back injury. Low impact activities, such as swimming, walking and bicycling, increase overall fitness without straining the lower back.
When standing for long periods of time, it's best to keep your head up and stomach tight. A stool or foot rest eases back discomfort when standing. Avoid wearing high heels. When sitting, place your chair at the appropriate height. Automobile seats should have adequate lower back support. If not, place a small pillow or rolled up towel behind the lumbar area.
Home care is recommended for the initial treatment of lower back pain. The application of ice followed by heat, each for 10 minutes, provides relief for some people. Bed rest for one or two days may provide the healing time necessary to alleviate pain. Most experts recommend no more than two days of bed rest or decreased activity. More than two days of bed rest can lengthen the recovery time.
Sleeping with a pillow between your knees while on your side or under your knees while on your back helps align the back and provides relief. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen can be useful for controlling pain. Ibuprofen also helps control minor inflammation that can cause pain.
If you seek medical attention, give an accurate description of your back pain and how it started. Additionally, any other unusual symptoms that may not seem related to your back pain may prove extremely helpful to medical professionals. Always follow the guidance of your health care provider.
For more information on lower back pain, go to the emedicine health web site