Lower Back Pain Symptoms

The lower (or lumbar) spine is highly flexible and bears more weight than any other part of your spine. While this makes it fundamental to motion and stability, it makes lower back pain symptoms highly common among adults. 

In this article, we’ll explore the possible causes of lower back pain and how to heal it effectively. 

Table of Contents

Causes for Lower Back Pain

Common causes of lower back pain include sprains, strains, disc injuries, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and osteoarthritis. 

  • Lower back sprains and strains

Sprains and strains are among the most prevalent causes of lower back pain. A back sprain occurs when the ligaments in the back are stretched or torn; a back strain develops when the muscle fibers in the back are stretched or torn. 

Back sprains and strains are usually successfully treated with at-home and/or conservative treatments, like heat/cold therapy, rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and compression. If these remedies don’t resolve a sprain or strain, it may require further treatment, like physical therapy and/or chiropractic care. 

  • Disc injuries

The intervertebral discs cushion the spine and prevent vertebral damage by absorbing impact. Problems involving these discs often contribute to lower back pain, including herniated discs and degenerative disc disease. 

  • Herniated discs occur when a disc’s tough exterior tears, pressing the soft, jelly-like interior outward. Herniated discs can press on adjacent spinal nerves, triggering lower back pain and/or neurological symptoms. 
  • Degenerative disc disease refers to disc damage from wear and tear, often due to age. Repeated stress on the discs over time causes them to thin, weaken, and become more prone to damage. 
  •  Spinal stenosis

Spinal stenosis develops when the spinal canal narrows or is abnormally narrow at birth. It’s often caused by age-related spinal changes, spinal injuries, or bone spurs. Though common, spinal stenosis can lead to chronic back pain and often needs professional treatment. 

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In addition to lower back pain, lumbar spinal stenosis can trigger neurological symptoms if the narrowed spinal canal presses on nearby nerves. These symptoms may include numbness, tingling, and weakness that radiate into the extremities. 

  • Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis occurs when one of the vertebrae slips out of its usual position, falling onto the vertebra beneath it. This causes spinal misalignment that can trigger nerve compression. Since spondylolisthesis is the most common in the lumbar spine, it often causes lower back pain

  • Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis, also called “wear and tear” arthritis, develops when the cartilage gradually breaks down. Cartilage cushions the bones in your body’s joints, including the joints of the spine. It absorbs impact to prevent damage and injury.

So, when the cartilage deteriorates with osteoarthritis, it causes inflammation, pain, and a reduced range of motion. If osteoarthritis affects the facet joints of the lumbar spine, it may trigger lower back pain. 

Red Flags for Lower Back Pain

The red flags for lower back pain are saddle anesthesia, impaired nerve function, urinary retention, fever, and pain that worsens at rest. 

Red flags for lower back pain indicate a serious spinal condition that requires immediate medical care. Understanding these warning signs can help prevent permanent nerve damage and disability. 

  • Saddle anesthesia

Saddle anesthesia is the term for numbness that spreads over the saddle area, which includes the buttocks, perineum, and inner thighs. It’s a key symptom of cauda equina syndrome, which develops when a group of lumbar nerve roots, known as the cauda equina, are compressed. Left untreated, cauda equina syndrome can cause permanent paralysis, so saddle anesthesia requires emergency medical care. 

  • Impaired nerve function

Impaired nerve function with lower back pain may include a loss of sensation and motor function in the lower extremities. It’s crucial to have impaired nerve function evaluated by a neurologist, as untreated nerve damage can lead to severe complications.  

  • Urinary retention

Urinary retention is another possible symptom of cauda equina syndrome. It occurs when you can’t empty all or any of the urine from the bladder. The nerves in and around the lumbar spine play a role in your body’s ability to control urination, so when they’re compressed, their function may be impaired. 

Some people with cauda equina syndrome experience related symptoms like a loss of urinary or bladder control, known as incontinence. 

  • Fever

Fever with low back pain can point to a spinal infection. Spinal infections can be serious and may even cause paralysis when left untreated. But, with prompt medical attention, they can typically be resolved with antibiotic or antifungal therapy. 

Other warning signs of a spinal infection include back stiffness, reduced range of motion in the back, chills, muscle spasms, weight loss, painful urination, and difficulty urinating. 

  • Pain that worsens with rest

Also known as mechanical or nocturnal pain, pain that worsens with rest in the lower back can indicate a serious problem, including a spinal tumor, spinal bone infection, or ankylosing spondylitis. All of these conditions require immediate medical care to protect your long-term well-being. 

How Long Does Lower Back Pain Last?

Lower back pain can last between a few days and a few weeks. If it becomes chronic, it can last for several months or even years, if it’s not successfully treated. 

Back pain is considered chronic if it lasts for longer than 12 weeks. Unlike acute back pain, these cases aren’t effectively resolved with rest and at-home care. Physical therapy, chiropractic care, pain medications, and, in some cases, surgery may be needed to resolve chronic back pain. 

How Do You Heal Lower Back Pain Fast?

You may be able to heal lower back pain fast with gentle exercise, heat/cold therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and proper posture. 

However, if these home care methods don’t heal your lower back pain quickly, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Your back pain may be stemming from an underlying problem and require professional care to heal it. Conservative methods like physical therapy, chiropractic care, lifestyle adjustments, and medications are sufficient to treat many cases of lower back pain.

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Advanced procedures for lower back pain that don’t respond to conservative treatments may quickly resolve your symptoms. Talk to your spinal specialist to learn more about the treatment options available to you.