The options are overwhelming and it can feel like everyone has advice for a quick and easy fix. Well-meaning friends will show you a stretch that worked for them, someone else may recommend an inversion table, and there are also the options of getting a massage or trying a chiropractor. Even deeper into the list are supplements, orthotics, braces and bracelets made out of special metals and magnets.
This page has been designed to explain the types of low back pain and to introduce some helpful therapies and when they may be applicable. Low back pain is often categorized into two groups; acute and chronic. The acute version is used to describe a very recent episode, less than 6 weeks. Chronic pain means it’s been around for a while, months to years.
Acute Low Back Pain
Acute low back pain is usually caused by an injury, overuse, or poor mechanics with a strenuous activity. It is not uncommon for the pain to come on 1-2 days after the overuse or strenuous activity occurred. Although the pain may feel severe, in the majority of instances this pain is not serious and will resolve within 4-6 weeks. However, implementing the correct therapies at the right time can help the healing process occur much faster.
It is often recommended to try ice and or anti-inflammatory medication for the first 24-48 hours. Ice can be used several times/day, but not longer than 10-15 min per session. If anti-inflammatories do not help and you notice it’s most painful to move in almost any direction, a muscle relaxer or stretching may be more beneficial. Often times, surrounding muscles spasm in an attempt to keep the body from re-injuring itself. Finally, therapies such as myofascial release, spinal manipulation and even acupuncture can help with mobility, pain management and healing.
Chronic Low Back Pain
Chronic low back pain starts to become more frustrating due to its ongoing nature. This can happen when the injury is recurring, possibly from recreational or work demands. It can also be due to arthritis, degenerative discs, nerve pain from a pinched nerve, or one of many other spinal conditions. When dealing with chronic low back pain, it is very important to get a diagnosis through a spine specialist. Otherwise a lot of time and money can be wasted by implementing the incorrect therapies.
Spinal instability is a very common pattern with many types of chronic low back pain. This means that core strengthening exercises are a great place to start. Once the core becomes stronger, more detailed and patient specific exercises should be implemented to retrain movement patterns. This is accomplished by getting a thorough evaluation to determine muscle imbalances and correcting them with functional rehabilitation.
When it comes to managing low back pain, being educated on your particular injury is crucial. There is not one stretch or exercise that works for everyone. There are multiple types of injuries and even more differing patterns within each type of injury. This means that management needs to be tailored to each person individually.