Chronic low back pain refers to extreme pain in the low back that has lasted for more than three months. Chronic low back pain can be caused due to several reasons including injury, trauma, disease, or stress/exertion of certain body structures. Moreover, the intensity and the type of pain may vary as per muscle, bone or nerve pain but no matter the type, chronic back pain is a very undesirable situation and hampers the everyday basic functioning.
The pain can feel like an ache, burning, stabbing or tingling and might occur as sudden sharp, slow and intense, dull and long, etc. The pain may be caused due to several conditions which may include disease, injury, or stress/pressure on different structures including bones, muscles, ligaments joints, nerves or the main spinal cord. The impacted structure signals the brain through nerve endings moving up the spinal cord, and the brain then registers the message as pain. In the case of chronic low back pain, these pathways of nerves that carry the signals become sensitive and that results in higher frequency and intensity of pain.
Symptoms of chronic low back pain
Some of the symptoms that indicate chronic back pain are:
- Radiating pain to the leg
- Worsening of pain with physical activity or movement
- Intensifying of pain during prolonged sitting
- Worsening of pain during the night
- Numbness or weakness in legs
- Inability to stand straight without support
However, in cases where a person has suffered a severe fall or injury or is experiencing any of the following symptoms along with low back pain – immediate medical attention should be provided:
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
- Numbness of the groin
- Weakness in legs
- Pain while coughing
- Problem in urinating
Moreover, patients who have a history of cancer, unexplained weight loss, weak immunity, and drug abuse history – must contact for medical help if they have chronic back pain.
Causes of chronic low back pain
Sometimes low back pain can be due to simple and straight reasons; however, in other cases, back pain may be a symptom for an underlying or impeding health problem. That said some general symptoms of low back pain include:
- Poor posture
- Excessive strain on structures forming the back
- Injury to muscles, bones, ligaments, joints, tendons, nerves, etc.
- Organ abnormalities in the abdomen, pelvis or chest
- Health disorders such as appendicitis, aneurysms, kidney disease, bladder problems, pelvic infection, and ovarian disorder
- Herniated discs
- Spinal disc degeneration
- Cauda equina syndrome
- Bone infections
- Inflammation of the spine
The exact cause of chronic back pain may be difficult to detect in some cases. However, symptoms and diagnostic tests, such as blood tests, X-rays, MRI, bone scans, CT scans, electromyography, and diagnostic injections – can help to know the definitive cause and medico may recommend treatment procedure accordingly.
Treatment for chronic low back pain
The treatment for chronic low back pain depends on the cause of the problem, the type and the source of the pain. However, in cases where the exact cause of the pain is not known or cannot be identified, the symptoms of the problem are treated. The goal of each treatment aims to improve the quality of life by easing movement and relieving pain. Some treatment options for people suffering from chronic low back pain include:
Physical Therapy: The prime treatment to cure chronic low back pain is physical therapy that involves training and educating the patient about various strengthening exercises, manual therapies and alternative methods such as:
- Healthy diet for bones
- Electric nerve stimulation
- Dry needling
- Nutritional therapy
Physical therapies usually have the best results and prevent back pain for a long time. The exercises and therapies are aimed to improve the strength of the back, enhance movements, promote flexibility, etc. These methods also improve the stability and strength of structures that have been stressed.
Medications: Another treatment category for chronic low back pain is targeted medications. These medications will depend on the cause of the problem and the intensity of pain. Medicines will include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to ease pain and reduce inflammation; muscle relaxants will help soothe chronic pain and increase the effectiveness of other medications; and anti-depressants and anti-seizure medications that cure nerve mediated pain in the back.
Surgery: Invasive or minimally invasive surgeries may be used to treat chronic low back pain, especially all other non-invasive methods have failed or in cases where surgery is the only and prime option of treatment. The type of surgery is dependent on the cause and the intensity of the problem.
Apart from these, the patient may also be recommended several coping therapies to enhance the healing process. A person may be severely impacted by a chronic back problem which might push him to be depressed due to uneasiness and restricted movement in everyday life. Depression affects the person’s ability to interact with other people, as well as causes several other health problems. Moreover, it is important to help patients cope with pain, anxiety, frustration to enhance the treatment of pain and the ability to cope with chronic pain.
In all, chronic low back pain is extremely manageable and treatable with proper diagnosis and adequate medical care.