Lower Back Pain – Symptoms, Treatment, and Myths

Where there is no movement, there is pain.

“Where there is no movement, there is pain.”

Lower back pain (LBP) is the most common cause of disability and lost work time among working-age adults in industrialized countries (1,3). In addition, it is the most common condition seen by a physical therapist. LBP is the second most common reason people call into work sick with the common cold being number 1. Freburger suggested that over 10% of the adult population has experienced back pain. Johannes concluded that in 2010 the prevalence of those with LBP was as high as 30% (2). In addition, lower back pain has caused severe economic impacts costing America billions of dollars throughout the years.

Previous research has suggested that the majority (around 80%) of people with LBP will recover in 6-8 weeks and may not require extensive treatment. However, those that experience back pain for longer than 6-8 weeks without receiving treatment tend to have more ongoing issues. If you have back pain and are not recovering within a 6-8 week time frame, it would be an appropriate time to seek medical care. If you do not seek care, the pain could likely last longer and will eventually increase your healthcare costs.

The symptoms of low back pain vary significantly from person to person. Your pain might be dull, burning, or sharp. You might feel it at a single point or over a larger area. It might be accompanied by muscle spasms and stiffness. Sometimes, these sensations can also be felt in 1 or both legs.

There are 3 different types of low back pain:

  • Acute – pain lasting less than 3 months
  • Recurrent – acute symptoms come back
  • Chronic – pain lasting longer than 3 months

Typical complaints patient’s come into therapy with:

  • Non-specific LBP, not radiating to lower extremity
  • Back pain with radiating pain
  • Decreased spinal ROM and loss of overall function with activities of daily living (ADL) and work tasks

LBP Symptoms To Watch For (Reg Flags):

  • Disturbed bowel/bladder function
  • Unexplained weight gain/loss
  • Loss of sensation in saddle area
  • Pins and needles in both hands and/or both feet
  • Clumsiness/lack of coordination with walking
  • Pain that is constant/unrelenting and unchanged by body position

If you have any of the above symptoms and these symptoms continue to worsen, please consult your physician or schedule a free injury screening with one of our expert therapists.

When to Look For Professional Help:

  • Symptoms are worsening overtime
  • If you present with any of the red flag items listed above
  • If you have back pain that started from any serious trauma or fall
  • Any sudden weakness in your lower extremity (i.e. foot drop)
  • Change in your ability to perform functional tasks (avoiding activities, you have had to change your day to day life).

Tips to Delay/Prevent/Help with LBP:

  • Aerobic exercise has many physical as well as mental and emotional benefits including preventing lower back pain
  • Avoid prolonged seated positions with poor posture. If you work a desk job, get up and move once per hour and walk around. You can use a lumbar towel roll on your lower back to promote improved posture.
  • Heavy lifting, repetitive bending/twisting of the spine can predispose you to back pain
  • Improving your exercise habits and overall nutrition can also help with healing

Myths about Lower Back Pain:

  1. “All patients with a herniated disc need surgery.” FACTPhysical therapy often plays a major role in herniated disc recovery. Its methods not only offer immediate pain relief, but they also teach you how to condition your body to prevent further injury.
  2. “Radiographs and MRI’s can always detect the source of patient’s symptoms.” FACT – For most cases of low back pain imaging tests, such as x-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are not helpful for recovery. If your physical therapist suspects that your low back pain might be caused by a serious health condition, we will refer you to other health care professionals for further evaluation.
  3. “When experiencing back pain, patients should rest until their pain goes away.” FACT – Lying down longer than a day or two day isn’t helpful for relieving LBP. The sooner you start moving, even a little bit, or return to activities such as walking, the faster you are likely to improve.
  4. “Back pain is typically disabling.” FACT – A physical therapist can pinpoint the problem and design an individualized stretching and exercise program that targets specific muscles to relieve your pain. We will also work with you to ensure you’re performing each lower back stretch and exercise correctly. When stretching and exercise isn’t enough, your physical therapist can use manipulation, mobilization and other treatment methods to reduce your lower back pain symptoms and resolve the underlying cause.

Final thoughts…

Motion is lotion! Touch it, tease it, do not overdue it. Find a balance or a “happy medium” between “no pain, no gain” and “if it hurts, don’t do it.” Listen to your body and rest when you need to rest, but do not be afraid to move. Movement does not equal harm.

Axes Physical Therapy Can Help You Find Lower Back Pain Relief

We’re here to help you. And if you are suffering from chronic or extreme lower-back pain—regardless of if it’s your right-side, left-side, or complete lower back—we have a team of professionals with demonstratively effective techniques to help relieve your pain and promote healing. You can learn more about lower back pain or discover our state-of-the-art treatments for pain.

And when you’re ready to begin the healing process, we welcome you to contact us for a friendly representative to schedule you for a consultation or free injury screening.

Brett Shelton, a physical therapist in the north st louis city area, discusses lower back pain symptoms and treatment with physical therapy and exercise.

To schedule an appointment with Brett or any of our expert physical therapists, request an appointment online today.

1. Bogduk. N. Management of chronic low back pain. Med J Aust. 2004; 180:79-83.

2. Freburger JK, Holmes GM, Agans RP, et al. The rising prevalence of chronic low back pain. Arch Intern Med. 2009;169(3):251-258.

3. Heitz CA, Hilfiker R, Bachmann LM. Comparison of risk factors predicting return to work between patients with subacute and chronic non-specific low back pain: systematic review. Eur Spine J. 2009;18:1829-1835.

4. Ostelo R, Croft P, van der Weijden T, van Tulder M. Challenges in using evidence to inform your clinical practice in low back pain. Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2010; 24:281-290.

5. Waddell G. A new clinical model for the treatment of low-back pain. Spine. 1987;12:632-644.

6. Waddell G, Newton M, Somerville D, et al. A Fear Avoidance Beliefs Questionnaire and the role of fear-avoidance beliefs in chronic low back pain and disability. Pain. 1993;52:157-168.