Lower back injuries are one of the most common health complaints with over 1 in 10 people being afflicted worldwide. Typically, it presents with pain that may be acute or chronic. The type of pain can also vary from dull to sharp, and be accompanied by other symptoms such as difficulty moving, stiffness, and muscle spasms. Many people that suffer lower back pain are unable to report to work and even children may fail to attend school.
These injuries can take various forms including sprains, strains, and fractures to bones in the spine. In some cases, lower back pain may be a symptom of certain conditions such as arthritis, degenerative disk disorders, spinal stenosis, spinal tumours and more. Before deciding on what treatment to undertake, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor.
Your doctor will likely first discuss your symptoms and take you through a physical exam. Thereafter, you may be asked to undergo some diagnostic exams such as a blood test, a urine test, a spine x-ray, CT scan, MRI and/or EMG. This screening will help establish the extent of the damage is from whatever injury you suffered, and if there is an underlying condition contributing to your symptoms.
Most people do not however seek medical advice or treatment when they suffer a back injury. They will opt to carry out self-care and in most cases, this will be effective. If the symptoms however persist, it is advisable to see your doctor.
Treatment of Lower Back Injuries
The RICE protocol is usually used where there has been a mild lower back injury. It stands for rest, ice, compression and elevation. During the first 48 hours, you can use this treatment to relieve the condition. Simply get some good rest, lying down in a position that is most comfortable for you. Apply ice compresses to the affected area. Ice will help reduce swelling and numb against pain. You can switch to heat compresses that will relax muscles after 48 hours. Place a pillow or folded towel underneath your thighs to help elevate and reduce the pressure on your lower back.
There are different kinds of medication you can take over-the-counter and as a prescription to treat the pain and discomfort associated with a lower back injury. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, high dose aspirin, diclofenac, and indomethacin can provide good pain relief. You may also be prescribed a muscle relaxant to ease tension in the tissues. Steroids and corticosteroid injections may also be provided to help reduce inflammation, ease swelling and irritation.
3. Stretching Exercises
While rest is advised in the initial days after having suffered an injury, at lower levels of pain, it may be beneficial to engage in some mild stretching exercises. Stretching exercises like yoga help strengthen muscles so they offer better support and reduce spasms. They also help increase flexibility, thus reducing muscle tension and improving blood flow that aids faster recovery. Other active habits like walking, riding a bicycle and low impact aerobics can also help similarly. Keeping active can boost recovery time. It can also help to learn the proper technique for such exercises by consulting with a physical therapist.
4. Manual Therapy
Where self-care measures no longer prove helpful, it can be a good idea to consult specialists in manual therapy. Physiotherapists specialise in exercise and manual therapies to help restore mobility and function to the joints and muscles of the body. They provide hands-on care and can train you on exercises you can then repeat at home. They may also use other techniques such as massage, mobility exercises, muscle strengthening exercises, manipulation and joint mobilisation.
Osteopathic treatment also utilises manual therapies to treat and reduce lower back pain by relieving muscle tension and improving joint movement. Some of the techniques that osteopaths use include massage, muscle energy techniques, manipulation, counterstrain techniques, myofascial release, and functional techniques. There is an emphasis placed on properly realigning the musculoskeletal system as it is considered to be at the core of regaining overall health.
Chiropractic treatments are another option for manual therapy for lower back pain. The manipulation of the spine is the most commonly applied technique. The treatments are focused on ensuring overall improvement in the health of different body systems.
5. Cognitive Therapy
Chronic pain from a lower back injury may be affected by psychological factors. Negative attitudes toward treatment, fear of pain or re-injury occurring can contribute towards poor recovery from injuries.
Cognitive therapy may help sufferers better manage their pain by altering how they think about their condition. It does not mean that the pain is not real, but rather thinking about it negatively may worsen its impact. This therapy can often be combined with other interventions like manual therapy, exercise and medication to improve outcomes.
In the most severe cases of injury, perhaps where there has been serious tissue or bone damage, or the symptoms are not being relieved by other non-invasive treatments, surgery may be considered. It may even be the best option where organ functions such as bowel and bladder control are compromised. If neurological deficits are identified, this may also be the best option.
The location, nature, and cause of the injury will often determine which procedure will be carried out. From spinal fusion surgery to rectify damage to injured vertebrae to decompression procedures to relieve pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, different kinds of surgeries can effectively treat various back injuries and conditions, providing effective relief from pain and other symptoms.