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Low Back Pain

Introduction

Low back pain, or lumbago, is a common musculoskeletal disorder affecting 80% of people at some point in their lives.  Although back pain may be severe, most low back pain is not due to a serious problem.

Anatomy

Low back pain can happen anywhere below the ribs and above the legs. The lower back is the connection between the upper and lower body, and it bears most of the body’s weight.

Causes

Often, doctors do not really know what causes low back pain, but some of the causes could be overuse, strain, injury, aging, herniated disc, arthritis, compression fractures, or a problem with your spine from birth.

Symptoms

Depending on the cause, low back pain can cause a range of symptoms.  The pain may be dull or sharp, or it may be in one small area or over a broad area.  You may also suffer from muscle spasms.  Low back pain can also cause leg symptoms, such as pain, numbness, or tingling, often extending below the knee.

Diagnosis

A doctor can make a diagnosis of low back pain usually just by obtaining a thorough medical history.  Your doctor will also need to do a physical exam, however, such diagnostic tests as X-rays, CT scans, or MRIs do not usually help.

Treatment

For people who suffer from low back pain, staying active is the most important thing you can do.  If you are worried that your pain may not subside, your physical therapist can teach you ways to help you move better and recover faster.  The best treatment for acute low back pain may be manual therapy or exercises that restore motion and decrease pain in the leg that is linked to your low back pain.  Exercises that improve coordination, strength, and endurance are best added to treatment once the pain lessens.  If your pain becomes chronic, moderate- to high-intensity exercises and progressive exercises that focus on fitness and endurance are helpful in pain management.

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