Chronic low back pain is measured by the length of time that the pain persists. If it lasts longer than three months, then it is considered chronic. It is progressive and the cause is difficult to determine.
A healthy back is strong and straight, moves easily and is free of any pain. When there is pain in the lower back for a long period of time, this is called chronic low back pain. The most common area of chronic pain is the lumbar spine, or the lower back.
As you know, the bones of the back support a person’s upper body and give it the flexibility it needs. Each area of the spine has differently shaped bones that permit good movement. The spine actually consists of 24 bones, or vertebrae, and five in the lower, or lumbar, spine. The sacrum is right below the lumbar spine, and is actually made of five bones that are fused together.
Back pain is defined as either chronic or acute. If it is acute, it will usually last less than a month and not caused by any serious medical conditions. Acute back pain clears up within a few days without medical attention, however reoccurrence is common. Chronic low back pain consists of a pain period that lasts longer than three months and occurs in about one to five percent of back pain cases.
Chronic low back pain is common as almost 20 million Americans will have at least one episode in their life. In addition, 600,000 of those will be disabled by chronic low back pain. It occurs in both women and men, and at any age, however older people are more likely to have chronic low back pain.
Some of the warning signs of chronic low back pain include stiff and swollen muscles and/or muscle spasms or a pain or weakness in one of your legs.
There are many causes of chronic low back pain. Often, it is not known what causes the pain. Poor posture is the most common cause, as are injury due to heavy lifting, overweight and lack of exercise can be causes of chronic low back pain. Some kinds of arthritis can be causes of chronic pain in the back. Sports, jobs or activities can also be associated with chronic low back pain.
If you have chronic low back pain, visit your doctor so that he or she may perform a physical examination as well as order tests including x-rays. Your doctor may refer you to a rheumatologist, which is a doctor that specializes in joints, muscles and bones.
Acetaminophen is often the first medication for treating chronic low back pain. It relieves pain, however it does not reduce any inflammation. To reduce the inflammation, doctors will often prescribe an NSAID. They will also tell you to exercise to help reduce the pain, in addition to preventing further damage to the back. Doctors will also tell you to apply heat to relax your aching muscles and reduce the pain and soreness in the joints. A hot shower or a heating pad will do this. They will also suggest icing your muscles with a ice pack – or if that is unavailable, a bag of frozen peas or corn – to reduce the swelling and even ease the pain. Surgery is often the last thing suggested as this is a last resort attempt to ease your chronic low back pain.