My Aching Back

By Kevin S. Brown, PA-C 


Low back pain is the second most common cause of missed work days in the United States. Most people will experience back pain in their lifetime.

The most common cause of this pain is low back (lumbar) strains and sprains. These injuries can occur after we lift heavy objects with poor lifting techniques.

Additional factors that may cause low back pain are obesity, poor conditioning, and smoking. Low back strains and sprains are very similar injuries that cause swelling of the soft tissues of the spine. A strain will occur if muscle fibers are abnormally torn or stretched. Sprains can occur when ligaments or soft tissue that holds bones together are torn.

With both injuries patients may experience low back pain and spasm while performing activities. Determining if a low back injury is either a sprain or strain can be difficult, however the treatment and prognosis of the injury is the same. Rest is the first treatment for low back strains and sprains. This will help control the pain by allowing the inflammation to subside. However, bed rest should not go beyond 48 hours because the muscles will become stiff and weak.

Other treatments include stretching, exercise, physical therapy, and medications. If your low back symptoms persist after appropriate treatment you may need to be evaluated by an orthopedist. He may take X-rays or order an MRI to look for other causes of low back pain, like fractures, disc disorders, and tumors. Some warning signs of serious low back injury are loss of bladder or bowel control, severe constant pain, and progressive weakness of legs.

If you experience any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor.