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Eighty percent of people suffer from back pain at some point in their lives. Back pain is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor's office, outnumbered only by upper-respiratory infections. In fact, it is estimated that low back pain affects more than half of the adult population each year and more than 10% of all people experience frequent bouts of low back pain.

The susceptibility of the low back to injury and pain is due to the fact that the low back, like the neck, is a very unstable part of the spine. Unlike the thoracic spine, which is supported and stabilized by the rib cage. This instability allows us to have a great deal of mobility to touch our toes, tie our shoes or pick something up from the ground, but at the cost of increased risk of injury.

As long as it is healthy and functioning correctly, the low back can withstand tremendous forces without injury. Professional powerlifters can pick up several hundred pounds off the floor without injuring their low back. However, if the low back is out of adjustment or has weakened supporting muscles, something as simple as taking a bag of groceries out of the trunk of their car, picking something up off the floor, or even simply bending down to pet the cat can cause a low back injury.

Until recently, researchers believed that back pain would heal on its own. We have learned, however, that this is not true. Recent studies showed that when back pain is not treated, it may go away temporarily, but will most likely return. It is important to take low back pain seriously and seek professional chiropractic care. This is especially true with pain that recurs over and over again. Contact our chiropractor . . . we can help!

The Causes of Low Back Pain

There are many different conditions that can result in low back pain, including: sprained ligaments, strained muscles, ruptured disks, trigger points and inflamed joints. While sports injuries or accidents can lead to injury and pain, sometimes even the simplest movements, like picking up a pencil from the floor, can have painful results. In addition, conditions such as arthritis, poor posture, obesity, psychological stress and even kidney stones, kidney infections, blood clots, or bone loss can lead to pain.

Due to the fact that there are a whole lot of things that can cause low back pain, and some of those things can be quite serious if left untreated, it is important to seek professional help. Chiropractors are the experts at diagnosing the cause and determining the proper treatment for low back pain. Here are some of the most common causes:

BIOMECHANICAL LESION/VERTEBRAL JOINT FIXATION – This is essentially what chiropractors treat.  When the spine gets injured in any form, it causes muscles to get tight resulting in joints that don’t move properly(fixation). In addition to local symptoms, if the nerves are affected you may experience pain that radiates down your legs.  As chiropractors, we administer soft tissue therapy to relax the musculature and spinal manipulation to get the joints moving again. Our goal is to restore the normal biomechanics of the spine, which reduces pain and improves function.

ACUTE SACROILIAC JOINT SPRAIN (SI Joint Sprain) – This is characterized by pain in the buttock with the possibility of radiation down the back of your leg(usually not past your knee), as well as pain that may radiate around into your groin area. Sitting and going from the sitting to standing position may increase your pain.  Once you get walking, the pain may improve. The SI joint can get sprained either by repetitive stress, as in running, golfing or excessive sitting, or in a single event such as a fall.  This results in swelling and inflammation of the joint.  SI joint problems can mimic sciatica with pain running down one leg.  Initially, ice and spinal manipulation are helpful for these conditions.

PIRIFORMIS SYNDROME - These symptoms can be very similar to an SI joint sprain or a herniated disc but they are caused by dysfunction, usually spasm or strain, of the piriformis muscle.  This muscle lies deep underneath your gluteal muscles, and goes from your hip to your sacrum.  Since the sciatic nerve runs under the piriformis, you can get pain that starts in your buttock and travels down your leg to your knee, calf or foot. Deep heat, spinal manipulation and deep myofascial therapy are helpful for this condition.

CHRONIC LOWER BACK PAIN - This type of back pain is characterized by mid to low grade pain.  It is usually a nagging type of dull stiffness that is not debilitating. Causes may vary from arthritis, vertebral joint fixation, disc degeneration or old injuries that have left scar tissue in and around the joints, ligaments, tendons and muscles.  Heat and spinal manipulation are effective for chronic lower back pain. These conditions will take longer to heal than acute sprains/strains.  The longer you have had a condition, the longer it will normally take to resolve.

LUMBAR DISC HERNIATION – This condition is characterized by lower back pain, and leg pain or numbness, tingling and weakness in just one leg.  The symptoms are caused when the disc bulges out putting pressure on the nerves exiting the spine. The leg pain can go below your knee and is usually more severe than the lower back pain. This condition can be very debilitating.  Thankfully, 85% of herniated disc conditions will heal with conservative care.  Surgery is considered only when there is significant weakness in a lower extremity or the pain is unrelenting and uncontrollable.  Ice, spinal manipulation and prescription medication are the first sources of treatment.  This condition may take months to fully resolve because of the severity and nerve involvement.

DISC DEGENERATION - This is a chronic condition that takes years to develop.  When the discs of the spine start to degenerate, they dry out and become thinner.  The result is that the vertebra get closer together. As the vertebra get closer together, the opening for the nerves to exit the spine become reduced. This condition is characterized by medium to low grade pain that is usually dull and achy.  Ranges of motion are reduced.  If the discs become severely degenerative, the nerves may get impinged and result in pain that radiates down one or both lower extremities. Initial treatment is heat, spinal manipulation and exercise. Since this is a chronic condition, it may take a few months for this to fully stabilize.

OSTEOARTHRITIS – This is also called “wear and tear” arthritis. The degree of osteoarthritis a patient gets is determined by genetics and how much abuse the joints have suffered during a patient’s lifetime.  It is characterized by joint stiffness and pain.  Most patients feel stiff and achy in the morning. The joints loosen up as the day progresses and symptoms may improve.  Later in the day, the patient’s symptoms may worsen due to ongoing stress on the joints.  Chiropractic care can help keep arthritic joints loose and flexible thereby decreasing the symptoms of osteoarthritis.  Since osteoarthritis is not curable, ongoing care is needed to keep symptoms under control.

SCIATICA – This is a non-specific term used for pain, numbness, tingling and/or weakness that starts in the buttock area and travels down the leg.  The sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body.  It is the approximate thickness of a finger!! Nerve roots that exit the lumbar spine come together to form this one large nerve.  When pressure is put onto the sciatic nerve it will cause symptoms to radiate down your leg.  If the symptoms go below your knee, it usually indicates the possibility of a lumbar disc herniation.  If the symptoms remain above the knee, it usually indicates a SI joint sprain, piriformis syndrome or lumbar strain/sprain. Treatment will vary depending on the cause.

LUMBAR SPINAL STENOSIS – This condition is characterized by lower back pain, leg pain, numbness or weakness in one or both legs that worsens when standing or walking.  When you sit down, the symptoms usually subside fairly rapidly.  Patients will also get relief by walking in a stooped over position or pushing a shopping cart in that position. It is caused by a narrowing(stenosis) of the spinal canal and/or nerve root canals due to degenerative arthritic changes.  It is most commonly seen in patients who are above the age of 70.  This is a chronic and progressive condition.  Initial treatment is deep heat, spinal manipulation and flexion exercises.  Although we may be able to control your symptoms and slow the progression of spinal stenosis, many of these conditions worsen over time.  Surgery can be an option if symptoms become unrelenting or significant lower extremity weakness develops.

STRESS - Whenever you become stressed, your body responds by increasing your blood pressure and heart rate, flooding your body with stress hormones and tightening up your muscles. When you are stressed all the time, the chronic tension causes your muscles to become sore, weak and loaded with trigger points. If you are stressed out all of the time and you have low back pain, it is important to do some relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, as well as to get regular exercise.

Treating Low Back Pain With Chiropractic

Chiropractic treatment for low back pain is usually pretty straightforward. Most commonly, it's simply a matter of adjusting the lower lumbar vertebrae and pelvis to re-establish normal motion and position of your bones and joints.

Chiropractic for the low back has been repeatedly shown to be the most effective treatment for low back pain. In fact, major studies have shown that chiropractic care is more effective, cheaper and has better long-term outcomes than any other treatment. This makes sense because chiropractic care is the only method of treatment that serves to re-establish normal vertebral motion and position in the spine. All other treatments, such as muscle relaxants, pain killers and bed rest, only serve to decrease the symptoms of the problem and do not correct the problem itself.