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Low Back Pain - Introduction

Where is it?

The lumbar spine is what is commonly referred to as the low back, and is the part of the spine that covers between the ribs and the hips. It is made up of 5 bones called vertebrae and with cushions between each bone. These cushions – known as discs, help when we walk or run, acting as a shock absorber so that the bones do not rub against each other.

The Lumbar spine has ligaments holding it in place, and is surrounded by many layers of muscles. Down the middle of each vertebrae is the spinal cord from which nerves branch out on both the left and right sides of the spine.

The low back, or lumbar area, serves a number of important functions for the human body. These functions include structural support, movement, and protection of certain body tissues.

When we stand, the lower back is functioning to support the weight of the upper body. When we bend forward or back, or rotate at the waist, the lower back is involved in the movement. Therefore, injury to the structures important for weight bearing, such as the bony spine, muscles and ligaments, often can be detected when the body is standing erect or used in various movements.

What is it?

Low back pain is a broad term used to describe pain that arises between the lowest ribs and the buttock crease with pain lasting for a few days or a few weeks.

Back pain varies. It may be sharp or stabbing. It can be dull, achy, or feel like a type of cramp. The type of pain you have will depend on the underlying cause of your back pain. Back pain is a symptom and the causes for back pain can be many.

Acute low back pain

Around 80% of all people will have low back pain sometime in their lives. The majority of acute back pain is, in most cases, a result of simple sprains and strains in your back. Sprains are caused by overstretching or tearing ligaments, and strains are tears in tendon or muscle. Both can occur from twisting or lifting something in the wrong way, lifting something too heavy, or overstretching. Such movements may also trigger spasms in back muscles, which can also be painful. In most cases, your back pain will get better on its own within a few weeks or with exercises and physical therapy treatment to re-train certain muscles.

Disabling back pain

The majority of people recover fairly swiftly from an episode of low back pain, but some people continue to suffer pain even after months or years. Research suggests that in most of these cases there is no new injury to the back. People with chronic pain often find it difficult to cope with work, family and social activities, and chronic low back pain is considered a significant cause of disability worldwide. This does not mean that patients cannot learn to manage their pain.

It is known that certain factors at early stages of back pain are associated with a higher chance of it becoming persistent.

More information

The Patient Line website offers information for patients with spinal conditions:
Sciatica, back pain, spinal stenosis, disc herniation, scoliosis and many other spine conditions explained in a clear reliable, and trustworthy way. Not for profit EUROSPINE experts are here to help patients and their families understand what may be worrying them.

EUROSPINE is a society of spine specialists of various disciplines with a large knowledge of spine pathologies. All well-known and accepted treatment modalities for spine pathologies are represented by the members of the society. However, the Society cannot accept any responsibility for the use of the information provided; the user and their health care professionals must retain responsibility for their health care management.
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page last updated on 24.08.2020