The low back supports the weight of the upper body. Muscles in the low back are responsible for bending, twisting, flexing and extending the trunk over the hips. Acute low back pain occurs with injury to the muscles, discs, facet joints and ligaments of the low back. 

Low back pain symptoms

Low back pain can increase slowly over time or occur suddenly during lifting something or moving around. Low back pain can be mild and constant, or progress to severely debilitating and affect the quality of life. 

  • Pain that is dull and achy
  • The pain could only be present during movement
  • Pain at rest (inflammatory)
  • Referral pain (burning, shooting, tingling, numbness) down the leg
  • Muscle spasms
  • Positional differences (worse seated vs standing)
  • Made better or worse by exercise

Length of the duration of pain describes whether the issue is acute (1 day to 6 weeks duration), sub-acute (6 weeks to 3-month duration) or chronic (+3months duration). Good news is that acute low back pain usually resolves quickly and simply if caused by something like a muscle spasm, subacute low back pain is generally when a muscle strain occurs and takes additional time to heal. Chronic low back pain usually hasn’t responded to initial treatment efforts, and a thorough assessment and clinical review are required to determine the cause. 

Types of low back pain

  1. Mechanical low back pain (Michaelson et al. 2016)
  2. Radicular low back pain (Litchenstein & Miles, 2017)
  3. Non-mechanical low back pain (Will, Bury & Miller, 2018)

A thorough assessment is required to find the appropriate treatment plan and rehabilitation protocol. Mechanical low back pain is the most common form, which means the pain is coming from structures of the low back or surrounding joints, ligaments, muscles, bones. Mechanical low back pain generally is movement specific, and a preferred position or movement direction can be found that decreases the pain. Radicular low back pain indicates a spinal nerve root is injured or inflamed. It is a sharp, specific pain that may feel electric, burning, shooting or numb that may follow a dermatome pattern down the gluteals and leg. Non-mechanical low back pain refers to any low back pain that doesn’t match the previous two descriptions some examples of non-mechanical low back pain may be visceral referral pain, infections and inflammatory conditions.

What you can do at home to help

  • Apply heat via creams or heat pack
  • Take a bath
  • Keep moving – to within pain tolerance
  • Avoid bed rest has poor outcome effects (Oliveira et al. 2018)
  • Seek professional advice & assessment
  • Strength training or exercise program may help (Berglund et al. 2015)

*As always an assessment with a professional is recommended