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Neurology Blogs > How Common Is Low Back Pain? How Is It Treated?

How Common Is Low Back Pain? How Is It Treated?

Posted by: Madhavi Monteforte, MD on 8/22/2010 7:00:00 AM

Low back pain is very common, affecting 8 out of 10 people at some point during their lives, according to the National Institutes of Health. The pain can be short-lived or become chronic and treatment depends on a medical evaluation.

Most people will experience low back pain at some point in their lives—8 out of 10 individuals, according to the National Institutes of Health. Many of these episodes will get better by themselves in a few days or weeks, but the pain can become chronic, meaning it lasts for more than three months.

Short-lived pain

Strains of the muscles and /or ligaments are often the cause of short-lived low back pain. Temporarily limiting activity and using over-the-counter medications may be all that you’ll need for your body to recover.

It’s a good idea to seek medical attention when the pain does not go away on its own or if you experience pain radiating into one or both legs. Seek immediate attention if you experience leg weakness or if you begin to have trouble controlling your bowel or bladder. These symptoms can be signs of significant injury to the nerves in the spine.

Chronic pain

If your pain lasts for more than three months, it will often be considered as chronic low back pain. This is often a more complicated situation and is a leading cause of work-related disability.

There are many structures in the back that can cause pain, including bone (vertebrae), discs (the cushions between the vertebrae), muscles, ligaments, nerves, and facet joints (the cushions connecting the back of the spine).

Several tests can help identify abnormalities in these structures, but they may not always explain the source of the pain. For example, many people without back pain have bulging discs. Therefore, having a bulging disc does not always explain why someone has ongoing pain. Test results can be helpful to confirm a suspected problem or rule out certain serious conditions.

Treating low back pain

A medical evaluation is an important step in evaluating chronic low back pain. After reviewing the history of your pain and examining you, your health care provider can determine the most appropriate treatment options. These may include physical therapy, medications, injections, chiropractic treatments, relaxation techniques, or acupuncture.

If preliminary treatments are not working, your primary care health care provider may refer you to a pain management specialist. If the condition is serious enough to consider surgery, a spine surgeon would be consulted. 

Madhavi Monteforte, M.D., is a pain management specialist and anesthesiologist with Anesthesia Associates of Lancaster. She is the medical director of the Lancaster General Pain Management Center. She earned her medical degree at Temple University School of Medicine and completed her residency at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where she also completed a fellowship in pain management. She has expertise in the use of various injection treatments for alleviating pain.

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