Lower Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Updated: Jun 18
Lower back pain is an uncomfortable, potentially long-lasting plight that nearly everyone will experience at some point in life. The pain is often severe enough to keep people away from work and school, and though much of lower back pain is acute and often fades, chronic lower back pain can often be difficult to treat and heal.
Fortunately, lower back pain treatment in Toronto does exist, primarily incorporating physiotherapy and lifestyle changes.
Common symptoms of pain in the lower back
Most often, people will experience a dull ache, sharp pains, stiffness, a change in posture, and muscle spasms, all of which can vary in intensity. Normally, one or more of these symptoms is most prevalent, depending on the cause of the lower back pain and the lifestyle of the sufferer. Lower back pain is quantified into two general terms: acute and chronic.
Acute lower back pain
Acute pain comes on abruptly, usually from an injury like picking up something heavy in an unsafe way. Acute pain normally heals quickly, pending that proper treatment is obtained and dangerous motions or workouts are toned down or briefly avoided.
Chronic lower back pain
Chronic lower back pain stems from issues within the spine and is often qualified by pain that persists for a minimum of three months. Chronic lower back pain often creates symptoms of stiffness, a loss in mobility, an altered gait, and damage to proper sleep cycles. Acute pain can cause many of these same symptoms, but as acute pain often stems from a direct injury, the pain tends to be sharper and less life-altering while it persists, only rearing its head if directly agitated.
Physiotherapy treatment for lower back pain
In either case of low back pain, acute or chronic, physiotherapy brings relief by periodically altering the state of the spine and surrounding muscles. This form of treatment differs from other common low back pain treatments in its aim for a long-lasting effect.
Physiotherapy works by manipulating the muscles through manual therapy. Depending on the source of the pain, a physiotherapist will treat the area to relieve pain caused by disc and posture issues. Muscle and tissue manipulation works to soften tense muscles and soothe tendons and ligaments that may be improperly flexed or tensed.
This aspect is especially beneficial for those suffering from acute pain, as adjusting and manipulating damaged muscle tissues and tendons often provides immediate relief. This is also true for cases of chronic pain, but patients will likely need to attend regular treatment to manage their pain as opposed to just a few sessions.
The severity of pain each patient experiences will be different on a case by case basis. At Global Health Physiotherapy Clinic, treatment for lower back pain includes educating our patients on how to manage the pain based on their injury or current condition. Pain relievers are often necessary. Ice and heat therapy is a common recommendation coupled with modalities such as ultrasound, shockwave therapy, stretching and/or executing specific positions to relax the muscles.
Custom exercise program
Attending physiotherapy allows for gradual spinal changes if practiced regularly, as it can strengthen surrounding muscles through a custom tailored exercise program. Strengthening and stretching the stabilizing muscles can be a key breakthrough in reducing the frequency of muscle spasms. It’s important to have a custom routine recommended and monitored by a physiotherapist. This ensures there are no false movements that could cause additional damage pain and setbacks.
Common causes of lower back pain
Unfortunately, the causes of lower back pain are broad and diverse, but there are ways to prevent and mitigate them. A majority of people begin experiencing low back pain directly from physical activities or a herniated disk.
Bulged or herniated disk
If you have a herniated disk. it bulges into the nerves of the spine, causing immense pain. Weight lifting inflicts high amounts of strain on the lower back, leading to strained muscles, ligaments and in extreme cases, herniated disks.
Exercise often goes against what we assume to be injury-provoking, as irregular, strenuous activity often does more damage than frequent moderate exercise. People who work out excessively on the weekends to make up for a low-activity week ('weekend warriors'), are much more likely to injure their spine and spinal muscles than someone who regularly exercises in small increments.
This stems from the overall underuse of the spinal muscles and ligaments, leaving the body unprepared for a severe beating on only two days of the week. Because of this, moderate exercise practiced regularly lowers a person's risk for spine injuries and pain by strengthening muscles of the legs, spine, and core, all without causing the excessive strain that leads to injury.
Additionally, certain professions can inflict injuries similar to weight lifting or excessive exercise. Jobs that require high amounts of lifting, twisting, pushing, and pulling leave a person prone to lower back injuries and pain. As when exercising, ensure a safe weight distribution and stance before lifting, twisting, pushing and pulling, whether performing work tasks or just changing the layout of your bedroom.
Pregnancy causes two major risk factors for lower back pain: sudden weight gain and poor posture. These aspects combine to put stress on the spine, leading to disc agitation, joint issues and muscle strain.
Posture is also a leading cause of bothersome lower back pain, a common perpetrator of pain that worsens after sitting or standing for an extended period of time. Like jobs that are highly physical, sedentary office jobs pose a risk for lower back pain if proper movement and posture are not maintained. This is especially true if sitting in an uncomfortable, unsupportive chair or if sitting in the same position for a time longer than thirty minutes.
Adding support to the lower spine (like a rolled-up towel) and stretching or moving around greatly helps mitigate strain on the lower back.
This condition occurs when a vertebrae in the spine slips forward. This out of place vertebrae can cause mild to severe pain. While this condition can happen anywhere on the spine, it is often linked to lower back pain.
Degenerative Disk Disease (DDD)
Everyone will experience degenerative disc disease at some point in their life. It is a naturally occurring condition where the spinal disks deteriorate from wear and tear. This typically occurs in the cervical spine and the lumber spine so it commonly linked to lower back pain.
When the spaces in the spinal canal or nerve roots become smaller and narrowed, its known as spinal stenosis. This can range from extremely painful to no symptoms at all. Spinal stenosis can occur in the cervical spine and/or in the lumber spine which directly links it to lower back pain.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is there a cure-all for lower back pain?
Unfortunately not. Treatment often varies from person to person, though many treatments will have a much higher likelihood of succeeding if primarily using physiotherapy and manipulation techniques or combining them with activities like yoga, as physiotherapy strengthens the spine as a whole. However, in some cases of chronic pain, injections and surgeries can be most effective for the longest period of time.
What is the best way to prevent lower back pain overall?
Remain active. This is a vitally important habit to stick to. Though it may sound backward, laying around, resting and “playing it safe” will cause your muscles to shorten, stiffen and weaken. Staying moderately active strengthens muscles in the lower body and produces greater flexibility, which is especially important in preventing random strains and sprains.
What do I do at the onset of a muscle spasm?
These spasms are painful products of muscle strains, and though the pain is intense and uncontrollable, stretching the affected muscle at the beginning of a spasm will offer a good chance of prevention. Massaging works similarly, as does ice and heat therapy.
If you’re experiencing extreme back pain, schedule a consultation with one of our physiotherapists. We offer in-home services if the pain is too extreme. At the very least, we can guide you through the preliminary steps to reducing the severity and frequency of your spasms.