Given the harsh winter we’ve experienced this year with lots of snow removal and ice chipping, it’s not surprising that we’ve seen an increase in the number of people experiencing acute low back pain. Don’t jump to the conclusion, however, that if you’ve hurt your back you’re automatically facing surgery and months of recovery: the good news is that acute low back pain should go away relatively quickly and can usually be treated at home.
Acute low back pain is caused by some sort of trauma – bending and twisting the wrong way, lifting something too heavy, a sports injury, work around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident – or by a medical problem such as arthritis or a disc herniation.
The term “acute” refers not to the type or severity of the pain (although that can be intense!) but rather the duration: most people who suffer from acute low back pain see their pain subside within a few weeks, and usually no more than 12 weeks.
Symptoms may range from muscle achiness to shooting or stabbing pain, limited flexibility and/or range of motion, or an inability to stand straight. Occasionally, pain felt in one part of the body may “radiate” to other parts of the body – pain can sometimes be felt in the lower extremities with acute low back pain.
Depending on the severity or duration of the low back pain you’re experiencing, you may wish to see your doctor. After a thorough exam, he or she may prescribe medications to help reduce pain and/or inflammation. And you should always go see your doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:
Many cases of acute low back pain can be treated at home, however. No one treatment works well for everyone, so you should try a few to see what works best for you. Here are some guidelines and suggestions for at-home treatment:
We all know the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It’s never more true as it applies to your back – there is a lot you can do! Overall healthy lifestyle habits such as exercising regularly, controlling your weight, eliminating smoking, maintaining a healthy diet, and reducing stress can help. Always stretch prior to exercising or performing other strenuous activities. Be aware of “body mechanics”: lift objects from the legs, not the back. How you “hold” your body can make a big difference, too: maintain good posture when walking, standing, or sitting (especially in the car when you can tense up while driving) and sleep on your side if possible. Make sure to check that your mattress has the proper support and is not sagging, and sit in chairs with good lumbar support.
For more tips and information from Harvard Vanguard, please visit our website.