What is Backache/lumbago?
Lumbago is defined as mild to severe pain or discomfort in the area of the lower back. The pain can be acute (sudden and severe) or chronic if it has lasted more than three months. Lumbago often occurs in younger people whose work involves physical effort and is not uncommon in people of retirement age.
What causes Backache/lumbago?
In the majority of cases, it is impossible to identify the exact cause of backache. In about 25 per cent of cases, however, it is possible to identify the cause. Often, these patients are suffering from conditions like a slipped disc, osteoporosis (brittle bones), deformation of natural spine curvature (scoliosis) or more rarely, skeletal damage due to tumors or infection.
What are the symptoms of Backache/lumbago?
- Pain across the lower part of the back that sometimes radiates into the buttocks, the back of the thigh or to the groin. The pain is usually worse on movement.
- Limitation in movement of the spine - especially bending forward and leaning back.
- Tense spasm of the muscles surrounding the spine and causing a stiff back.
- With severe pain and spasm, the back may tilt to one side causing a change in posture.
- The pain is sometimes accompanied by a tingling sensation or numbness in the back or buttocks or leg.
What are the danger signs?
If you suddenly find out that you are unable to control your bladder or bowel movements or if the area of the lower back or legs turns numb, contact a doctor or Accident and Emergency department immediately.
If you suffer from backaches and notice reduced strength or muscle bulk in one or both legs, contact a doctor. These warning signs indicate compression of the spinal cord and its branches and early treatment is essential if permanent damage is to be avoided.
What can be done at home to ease back pain?
Acute low back pain
- Use painkillers. Special medicines for relaxation of muscles may sometimes be prescribed. NSAIDs (no steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs eg ibuprofen) and muscle relaxants relieve more pain than placebo.
- Activity is beneficial. Stay active. Get on with your life within the limits of your pain.
- Warmth helps, as does swimming in a warm pool.
- Rest and sleep lying on a firm, flat surface, if possible.
- Avoid stooping, bending, lifting and sitting on low chairs.
- Bear in mind that backaches are rarely caused by a serious illness and usually go away in a couple of days.
Chronic low back pain
- If you have suffered backaches for a long period, you should consult your GP. Rarely does an X-ray benefit. Referral to a physiotherapist or chiropractor for spinal manipulation might be beneficial and may produce relief of symptoms, but may not be long-lasting.
- Low back pain benefits from back exercises, back schools, behavioral therapy and multidisciplinary pain treatment programmes.
- There is no evidence that use of antidepressants, traction, facet joint injections and EMG (electromyography) feedback are effective.
How does the doctor make a diagnosis?
In most cases, a back problem can be diagnosed by a doctor from the information given by the patient.
Chiropractors usually perform a specially thorough examination and will observe the movement of the joints in the spine, pelvis, and hips; perform orthopaedic and muscle tests; and check to see if any nerves are trapped in the spine.
Generally speaking, it is seldom necessary to take X-rays, scans or blood tests in order to rule out more serious underlying causes of back pain.