How to Handle Low Back Pain

September 30, 2022
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How to Handle Low Back Pain

Back pain is a common complaint for adults. In fact, as adults age, they become more likely to experience back pain.

Acute, or short-term back pain, will often resolve on its own within days or weeks. Most back pain is acute. Other times, it can be chronic, or long-term, and may need medical attention.

What causes low back pain?

  • Overactivity. One of the most common causes of low back pain is muscle soreness from overactivity. Muscles and ligament fibers can be overstretched or injured. This is often brought about by that first softball game or a round of golf of the season, or too much yard work or snow shoveling in one day.
  • Disk injury. Some people develop low back pain that does not go away within days. This may mean there is an injury to a disk.
  • Degenerative spondylolisthesis. Changes from aging and general wear and tear make it hard for joints and ligaments to keep your spine in the proper position. The vertebrae move more than they should, and one vertebra can slide forward on top of another. If too much slippage occurs, the bones may begin to press on the spinal nerves.
  • Spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis occurs when the space around the spinal cord narrows and puts pressure on the cord and spinal nerves.
  • Scoliosis. This is an abnormal curve of the spine that may develop in children, most often during their teenage years. It also may develop in older patients who have arthritis. This spinal deformity may cause back pain and possibly leg symptoms if pressure on the nerves is involved.
  • Vertebral compression fractures, where the vertebrae in the spine collapse, can happen when someone with severe osteoporosis falls or does something as simple as forcefully sneeze or attempt to lift something. In younger people, compression fractures happen mainly from severe trauma, such as in an auto accident, sports injury or a hard fall.

Compression fractures can cause symptoms such as:

  • Sudden onset of back pain
  • An increase of pain intensity while standing or walking
  • A decrease in pain intensity while lying on the back
  • Limited spinal mobility

How can someone tell when it’s time to see a doctor for back pain?

A compression fracture is a good example of a condition that needs medical attention. Most short-term back pain caused by overuse can be treated at home with acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen, along with gentle movement. Certain exercises and stretches, heat or cold packs can also help.

In general, people should see a doctor when low back pain does not subside on its own within several weeks.

Are there ways to prevent low back pain?

Maintaining strength, flexibility, and a healthy weight go a long way toward preventing back pain.

Posture is also important, including good posture while lifting. When lifting a heavy object, people should lift with their legs and abdominal muscles, not back muscles.

630 Naperville Guest

Kamran Khan, D.O., is a neurosurgeon at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

About Edward-Elmhurst Health

Edward Hospital and Linden Oaks Behavioral Health are part of NorthShore – Edward-Elmhurst Health, a fully integrated healthcare delivery system committed to providing access to quality, vibrant, community-connected care, serving an area of more than 4.2 million residents across six northeast Illinois counties. Our more than 25,000 team members and more than 6,000 physicians aim to deliver transformative patient experiences and expert care close to home across more than 300 ambulatory locations and eight acute care hospitals – Edward (Naperville), Elmhurst, Evanston, Glenbrook (Glenview), Highland Park, Northwest Community (Arlington Heights) Skokie and Swedish (Chicago) – all recognized as Magnet hospitals for nursing excellence. Located in Naperville, Linden Oaks Behavioral Health provides for the mental health needs of area residents. For more information, visit NorthShore.org and EEHealth.org.

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