A friend of mine once reflected that you know you’re getting old when you hurt yourself in your sleep. He was talking about waking up with a sore back.
Low back pain is one of the leading health conditions affecting young and middle-aged adults. While there are many important medical conditions that can cause low back pain, the most common reasons why people suffer from this problem have to do with unhealthy behaviors.
Most commonly, low back pain is described as a soreness on either side of the spinal column which is sometimes associated with muscle spasm. This may be worsened with activities such as bending, pushing, pulling, stooping or squatting.
The symptoms are typically attributable to a strain of the muscles in the low back, which are responsible for maintaining posture. Muscular strain injuries are common. Often, they result from lifting an object that is too heavy. Back strain may also occur during physical exertion when the back is being used as a lever, such as bending or reaching forward. Finally, as with other muscular injuries, back strain may occur with physical activity that is not preceded by proper warm-up and stretching.
The muscles of the low back are designed to maintain a straight and upright posture as well as to maneuver the spine. However, they are less well-designed for heavy physical labor. For instance, when stooping to pick up an object from the ground or when lifting heavy objects, it is more suitable to use the thigh muscles by bending the knees while keeping the back straight.
An effective treatment plan for muscular back strain injuries includes a period of rest accompanied by low impact physical activity, stretching, gentle massage and the use of over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen. In most instances, this is adequate to alleviate discomfort and quickly return to a normal level of functioning.
When symptoms persist, progress or are associated with other problems, medical evaluation is warranted. Worrisome symptoms include the presence of fever, pain that moves into the thigh or lower leg, urinary difficulties, loss of continence and/or pain that is severe and disabling.
Sudden severe back pain associated with these symptoms may indicate a more serious injury such as a disc rupture. Other serious conditions may be associated with weight loss, weakness and loss of sensation. When these symptoms are present, not only a medical evaluation but also imaging of the back may be necessary.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Ute Health Center in Towaoc.