Lower Back Pain: Symptoms, Stretches, Exercise for Pain Relief

Nearly everyone will experience some form of back pain in his or her
lifetime. The low back is the area behind the belly from the rib cage to
the pelvis and is also called the lumbar region. Back pain is a major
cause of missed work. Low back pain usually resolves on its own and is
commonly the result of a strain injury. There are many treatments for
low back pain.

At Risk for Lower Back Pain?

back pain can start in a person’s early twenties and continue on
throughout adulthood. Studies have shown that up to 80% of the general
population are affected by low back pain (LBP) at some time during their
lives. Learn to prevent lower back pain by knowing what activities
could be putting you at risk.

  • Common Causes of Low Back Pain
  • Manual materials handling (especially lifting)
  • Twisting of the trunk
  • Bending the trunk forward
  • Bending the trunk to the side
  • Excessive reaching
  • Falls
  • Prolonged sitting
  • Sedentary jobs
  • Highly physical jobs
  • Exposure to whole-body vibration
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Obesity
  • Extreme tallness

Low Back Pain Symptoms: Does Your Back Hurt?

back pain symptoms range from sharp and stabbing to a dull ache. The
pains can be constant or intermittent and positional. Acute low back
pain can appear suddenly after injury. Chronic back pain is defined as
pain lasting more than three months. Consult a doctor if you have
prolonged back pain longer than 72 hours.

Low Back Pain and Serious Back Injuries

back pain after an injury should be evaluated by a health-care
professional. Warning signs of more serious injury include pain with
coughing or urinating, loss of control of the bowels or bladder, new leg
weakness, and fever. These additional symptoms require medical

Is It Muscle Strain or Sciatica?

Back pain that
occurs after excessive exercise or heavy lifting is frequently a strain
injury. However, occasionally these activities cause disc injury and
rupture or herniation. When a herniated disc irritates the sciatic
nerve, it can cause back pain and, in some people, leg pain.

What is Sciatica?

is a form of nerve pain caused by pressure on the sciatic nerve. The
sciatic nerve is a large nerve that runs down through the buttocks and
extends down the back of the leg. Pressing on or pinching of the sciatic
nerve causes shock-like or burning low back pain. Sometimes people feel
as if the pain radiates down through the buttocks and down one leg,
sometimes even reaching the foot.

Is Your Job Causing Back Pain?

job that involves pulling, lifting, or twisting with the low back can
cause injury and low back pain. Even prolonged sitting in an awkward
position can cause low back pain. Standing on your feet for hours on
end? That can cause lower back pain too. The best way to prevent back
pain is to know if you are at risk.

  • Jobs That Can Cause Lower Back Pain
  • Airline crew (pilots, baggage handlers)
  • Surgeons
  • Nurses & healthcare workers
  • Bus and cab drivers
  • Warehouse workers
  • Construction workers
  • Carpet installers and cleaners
  • Farmers (agricultural, dairy)
  • Firefighters and police
  • Janitors
  • Mechanics
  • Office personnel (e.g., telemarketers, file clerks, computer operators)

Find Back Pain Relief: Lighten Your Bags

an overstuffed purse, briefcase, or handbag can strain the low back. If
you must carry a heavy load, consider using a wheeled briefcase
instead. By reducing the amount of weight you’re carrying, you reduce
the amount of pressure on the spine. Help keep your kids’ backs healthy
by making sure their backpacks are not overloaded. A heavy backpack
could mean future back pain for your little ones.

Workouts That Can Cause Low Back Pain

athletic injuries to the back are sprains of the ligaments or strains
of the muscles surrounding the spine. Serious conditions or
complications can have similar symptoms to those of a routine sprain or
strain. The most common sports injuries occur after repetitive overuse
of the spine either through twisting, compression, or flexion. High
impact sports such as running, football, or volleyball can often cause
low back pain. Sports like golf, in which repetitive twisting is often
involved, can also cause low back pain.

Better Posture for Back Pain Relief

back provides optimal support when we stand properly and do not slouch.
Sitting with proper support for the low back with shoulders back and
even a foot rest can prevent low back pain. Proper balance on the feet
when standing can also minimize the risk of developing low back pain
while up.

Herniated Discs and Low Back Pain

The vertebrae,
or bony building blocks of the spine, are cushioned by gel-like discs in
between the vertebrae. These discs can degenerate with aging and are
prone to injury as a result. When a disc ruptures, it is referred to as a
herniated disc, which can cause significant pain.

Chronic Conditions That Cause Back Pain

that can lead to chronic low back pain include spinal stenosis,
spondylitis, and fibromyalgia. Spinal stenosis is narrowing of the
normal spinal canal through which the spinal cord passes. Spondylitis is
chronic inflammation of the spine. Fibromyalgia is a muscle disorder
that features chronic muscle pain and tenderness.

Are You Making Your Back Pain Worse?

Don’t be guilty of exacerbating your already achy back. Try these tips for preventing added low back pain:

  • Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes if you are on your feet all day.
  • Don’t slouch when standing or sitting.
  • At home or work, make sure work surfaces are at a comfortable height.
  • Warm-up and stretch before exercise or other strenuous physical activity.
  • Don’t try to lift objects that are too heavy and don’t twist while lifting.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle, stop smoking, and keep off the extra weight.

Diagnosing Low Back Pain

description of your back pain is very important for your doctor to
diagnose your condition properly. It can be helpful to note when and
where the back pain began, what activities you do, related symptoms, and
any chronic medical conditions.

  • Tests Used to Diagnose Back Pain
  • X-ray
  • Computerized tomography (CT)
  • Myelograms
  • Discography
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Electrodiagnostics
  • Bone scans
  • Ultrasound imaging
  • Blood tests

Hot or Cold Therapy for Low Back Pain?

or cold packs may help ease pain and reduce symptoms. The soothing
relief from heat, or the dulling relief from a cold pack, is only
temporary and will not treat more serious causes of back pain. However,
they may provide greater mobility for people with acute, subacute, or
chronic pain, allowing them to get up and get moving.

Will Bed Rest Help Back Pain?

often recommend continuing your usual activities of daily living as
soon as possible. Studies suggest that strict bedrest can often prolong
or worsen low back pain. Bed rest can also lead to secondary
complications such as depression, decreased muscle tone, and blood clots
in the legs. You should try and keep moving while avoiding activities
that noticeably aggravate or worsen back pain. By staying active, those
who suffer from low back pain can gain greater flexibility and quicker

Yoga: Stretching for Back Pain

If back pain
doesn’t go away in three months, there’s evidence that yoga can help. In
one recent study, people who took 12 weeks of yoga classes had fewer
symptoms of low back pain than people who were given a book about care
for back pain. The benefits lasted several months after the classes were
finished. The study suggests conventional stretching also works just as
well. Make sure your instructor is experienced at teaching people with
back pain and will modify postures for you as needed.

Should I See a Chiropractor for My Back Pain?

manipulation is used by chiropractors and osteopathic physicians to
treat low back pain in selected patients. Spinal manipulation applies
hand pressure to areas of the low back to relax irritated muscle and
lessen the intensity of the pain.

Traction, using pulleys and
weights to lengthen and stretch the spine can result in temporary
relief. Both techniques will not treat any underlying causes of back
pain, but rather offer a temporary relief from lower back pain.

Massage Therapy for Low Back Pain

have shown that massage treatments can help relieve chronic low back
pain. Massage treatment can restore people to their usual activities of
daily living and lessen pain. Massage therapy is limited, and would not
be the most effective solution for patients with spinal complications,
injuries, or disk problems since massage focuses on the release of
muscle tension and not on the structure of the spine itself.

Acupuncture for Low Back Pain Relief

can be moderately effective for chronic low back pain. With
acupuncture, fine needles are inserted into various points around the

Acupuncture practitioners hypothesize that when these thin
needles are inserted into the skin and then stimulated by twisting or
tapping, naturally occurring chemicals such as endorphins, serotonin,
and acetylcholine are released to relieve pain.

Anecdotal evidence
suggests acupuncture can be an effective pain reliever. Further
scientific and clinical studies are underway to prove the efficacy of
acupuncture therapy.

Pain Medications to Treat Back Pain

wide range of medications is used to treat both acute and chronic low
back pain. Analgesic medications are specially formulated to relieve
pain. They include over-the-counter acetaminophen and aspirin, as well
as prescription opioids such as codeine, oxycodone, hydrocodone, and

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) can also
be used to relieve pain and inflammation. Over-the-counter NSAIDS
include ibuprofen, ketoprofen, and naproxen sodium. Several others,
including a type of NSAID called COX-2 inhibitors, are available only by

There are also many topical creams or sprays that
can dull and soothe low back pain. These are applied to the skin and
thus stimulate localized nerves to provide feelings of warmth or cold in
order to dull the sensation of pain. Topical analgesics can reduce
inflammation and increase blood flow.

Injections for Low Back Pain Relief

steroid injections are a commonly used short-term choice for treating
low back pain and sciatica. These injections work by reducing
inflammation to relieve pain. Injections are intended for short-term use
and should not be utilized for an extended period of time as they may
worsen pain in the long run.

For those with chronic pain or sever
spinal injury, a nerve block may be utilized to prevent nerve conduction
in a certain area. This essentially blocks all feeling from nerves.
Nerve blocks are typically only used in extreme cases of severe pain.

Is it Time for Back Surgery?

surgery is often a last resort when all other treatment options have
been tried. Surgery may be considered an option to relieve pain caused
by serious musculoskeletal injuries or nerve compression resulting from
vertebrae shifting or collapsing.

Back surgeries often have a long
recovery period, and some patients may lose mobility and flexibility
post-surgery. It is also important to note that not all surgical
procedures are successful. As such, it is important for patients to talk
with their physicians and know all of the risks associated with a
procedure before undergoing back surgery.

Physical Therapy for Back Pain Treatment

programs can not only help in the healing but also decrease the risk of
reinjuring the low back. Guided physical therapy with stretching,
strengthening, and low-impact exercises is used to optimize short- and
long-term outcomes.

Tips to Strengthen Your Back

Flexion and
extension exercises are commonly used to prevent low back pain. Be sure
to review with the doctor any program you are considering.

Easy Low Back Exercises

Ankle Pumps: Lie on your back and move ankles up and down.

Heel Slides: Lie on your back and bend then straighten the knees one at a time.

Squats: With your back flat against a wall, sit like you would in a
chair with your knees lined up over your ankles. Gently press against
the wall, keeping your abdominal muscles tight. Hold for five seconds.

Single Knee to Chest Stretch: Lying down with back flat, pull your knee into the chest.

Preventing Low Back Pain

to lower your risk of back pain as you age include exercising regularly
(and not irregularly), maintaining a healthy weight, lifting with the
legs and not the low back, and optimizing your workstation.

any period of prolonged inactivity, a regimen of low-impact exercises is
recommended. Speed walking, swimming, or stationary bike riding 30
minutes daily can increase muscle strength and flexibility and protect
your low back from injury or strain. Frequent stretching can help loosen
muscle tension, strengthen your core muscles, and improve over-all
posture for a healthier back.