When To Get Help For Low Back Pain
Pain from ruptured discs and arthritis doesn’t have to flatten you. There are a variety of ways to ease lower back pain discomfort and reduce disability, often without drugs.
Spinal problems are the price we pay for walking upright. Wear and tear on our backbones and the constant pull of gravity on our vertebrae take their toll over time. Nearly every adult has had a stiff or sore back at some time.
Sciatica is a term you’ve probably heard people use for pain in the lower back, radiating to the buttocks and down one or both legs. “When patients tell me they have sciatica, they could have one of two conditionsa leaking disc or spinal stenosis ,” says Dr. Steven Atlas, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. These conditions in turn can put pressure on the sciatic nerve, which emerges from the lumbar spine, separates just above the buttocks, and runs down each leg.
What Are The Symptoms Of Lower Back Pain
Symptoms of lower back pain can come on suddenly or appear gradually. Sometimes, pain occurs after a specific event, such as bending to pick something up. Other times, you may not know what caused the pain.
Pain may be sharp or dull and achy, and it may radiate to your bottom or down the back of your legs . If you strain your back during an activity, you may hear a pop when it happened. Pain is often worse in certain positions and gets better when you lie down.
Other symptoms of lower back pain include:
- Stiffness: It may be tough to move or straighten your back. Getting up from a seated position may take a while, and you might feel like you need to walk or stretch to loosen up. You may notice decreased range of motion.
- Posture problems: Many people with back pain find it hard to stand up straight. You may stand crooked or bent, with your torso off to the side rather than aligned with your spine. Your lower back may look flat instead of curved.
- Muscle spasms: After a strain, muscles in the lower back can spasm or contract uncontrollably. Muscle spasms can cause extreme pain and make it difficult or impossible to stand, walk or move.
When To Visit A Doctor For Sciatica
Mild sciatica resolves on its own. However, you should see a doctor for your lower back pain and leg numbness if the pain persists for more than a week or becomes progressively worse.
Your pain occurs after a trauma like a traffic accident
Your pain is sudden and severe, radiating from your lower back or leg
You are experiencing numbness or muscle weakness in your lower leg
You have difficulty controlling your bowels and bladder
Your pain is accompanied by fever, nausea, and unintended weight loss
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If I Dont Have Sciatica What Do I Have
One of the reasons that it can be difficult to tell if a person is truly experiencing sciatica is that many other types of pain can mimic sciatica. As someone trying to self-diagnose, you may find it difficult to tell if your pain is truly sciatic in nature or if its simply lower back pain.
Here are some of the most common problems that can cause sciatica-like symptoms.
What Are The Symptoms
Classic sciatic pain starts in the low back and buttocks. It affects one leg traveling down the back of the thigh, past the knee, and sometimes into the calf and foot. The pain feels worse in the leg than in the back. It may range from a mild ache to severe burning or a shooting pain. Numbness or tingling can occur in your leg and foot. This usually is not a concern unless you have weakness in your leg muscles or foot drop.
Sitting usually causes the most pain because of the weight this position puts onto the discs. Activities, such as bending or twisting, worsen the pain, whereas lying down tends to bring relief. Running or walking may actually feel better than sitting or standing for too long.
Seek medical help immediately if you have extreme leg weakness, numbness in the genital area, or loss of bladder or bowel function. These are signs of a condition called cauda equina syndrome.
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When Should Someone Seek Medical Care For Sciatica
- The pain is not improving after several days or seems to be getting worse.
- If the affected person is younger than 20 years of age or older than 55 years of age and is having sciatica for the first time
- The affected individual presently has cancer or has a history of cancer.
- The affected individual has lost a large amount of weight recently or has unexplained chills and fever with back pain.
- The affected individual is HIV positive or uses IV drugs.
- Someone has trouble bending forward after more than a week or two.
- The affected individual notices weakness is getting more pronounced over time.
Go to a hospitals emergency department if any of the following occur along with sciatica.
- The pain is unbearable, despite trying first aid methods.
- The pain follows a violent injury, such as a fall from a ladder or an automobile crash.
- The pain is in the back of the chest.
- The affected individual is unable to move or feel his or her legs or feet.
- The affected individual loses control of his or her bowels or bladder or has numbness in his or her genitals. These may be symptoms of cauda equina syndrome .
- The affected individual has a high temperature .
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How Can I Tell If Pain In My Hip Is A Hip Issue Or Sciatica
Hip problems, such as arthritis in the hip, usually cause groin pain, pain when you put weight on your leg, or when the leg is moved around.
If your pain starts in the back and moves or radiates towards the hip or down the leg and you have numbness, tingling or weakness in the leg, sciatica is the most likely cause.
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How Is Sciatica Treated
The goal of treatment is to decrease your pain and increase your mobility. Depending on the cause, many cases of sciatica go away over time with some simple self-care treatments.
Self-care treatments include:
- Appling ice and/or hot packs: First, use ice packs to reduce pain and swelling. Apply ice packs or bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel to the affected area. Apply for 20 minutes, several times a day. Switch to a hot pack or a heating pad after the first several days. Apply for 20 minutes at a time. If youre still in pain, switch between hot and cold packs whichever best relieves your discomfort.
- Taking over-the-counter medicines: Take medicines to reduce pain, inflammation and swelling. The many common over-the-counter medicines in this category, called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs , include aspirin, ibuprofen and naproxen . Be watchful if you choose to take aspirin. Aspirin can cause ulcers and bleeding in some people. If youre unable to take NSAIDS, acetaminophen may be taken instead.
- Performing gentle stretches: Learn proper stretches from an instructor with experience with low back pain. Work up to other general strengthening, core muscle strengthening and aerobic exercises.
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Can Lower Back Pain Be Related To Weather
If you feel like your lower back pain worsens on days when its cold or the weather is changing, you are not imagining things. Back pain can indeed be related to barometric pressure and outdoor temperature. Changes in pressure can sometimes cause pain in arthritic joints, including the spine. Muscles and joints in general react to the environment, which can make them stiffer and more likely to suffer an injury.
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The Universal Guide To Sciatica: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know Straight From The Experts
In This Article:What Is Sciatica? | What Is The Sciatic Nerve? | What Are Common Sciatica Symptoms? | What Causes Sciatica? | How Is Sciatica Diagnosed? | What Are Some Nonsurgical Sciatica Treatments? | Do You Need Sciatica Surgery? | What Type of Sciatica Surgery Do You Need ? |
The sharp, shooting nerve pain of sciatica can take your breath away. When low back pain radiates through the buttocks and down the leg, the symptoms are known as sciatica. Although sciatica is commonaffecting up to 40% of adultsthere are many misconceptions about what sciatica is.
Leg pain that descends below the knee is the classic hallmark of sciatica, a type of lumbar radiculopathy. Photo Source: 123RF.com.
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You’re Running A Fever
The flu can definitely make you run a fever and achiness, including in your back. However, if the fever is unresponsive to standard OTC medications, you could have a serious infection that needs treatment immediately. If you go to a doctor and they find an infection, they may prescribe antibiotics and a few days rest. Learn how to avoid the flu.
How Is Sciatica Diagnosed
First, your healthcare provider will review your medical history. Next, theyll ask about your symptoms.
During your physical exam, you will be asked to walk so your healthcare provider can see how your spine carries your weight. You may be asked to walk on your toes and heels to check the strength of your calf muscles. Your provider may also do a straight leg raise test. For this test, youll lie on your back with your legs straight. Your provider will slowly raise each leg and note the point at which your pain begins. This test helps pinpoint the affected nerves and determines if there is a problem with one of your disks. You will also be asked to do other stretches and motions to pinpoint pain and check muscle flexibility and strength.
Depending on what your healthcare provider discovers during your physical exam, imaging and other tests might be done. These may include:
- Spinal X-rays to look for spinal fractures, disk problems, infections, tumors and bone spurs.
- Magnetic resonance imaging or computed tomography scans to see detailed images of bone and soft tissues of the back. An MRI can show pressure on a nerve, disk herniation and any arthritic condition that might be pressing on a nerve. MRIs are usually ordered to confirm the diagnosis of sciatica.
- Nerve conduction velocity studies/electromyography to examine how well electrical impulses travel through the sciatic nerve and the response of muscles.
- Myelogram to determine if a vertebrae or disk is causing the pain.
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Radiating Lower Back Pain Quiz
Take a quiz to find out what’s causing your pain.
Severe pain always gets your attention and keeps it there, making you wonder if there is something worrisome that is wrong.
Back pain and outer hip pain area can be especially troublesome, causing you pain when you move, walk, and even when you sleep. Sciatic nerve pain is especially troubling, causing pain in the butt literally and shooting pain in the leg that begins in the mid buttock and runs down the back of the leg down to the ankle.
We’ve put together a handy guide that will help you pinpoint the exact cause of your pain and know how seriousor mild, your condition is and to know if you need to get help immediately or see a doctor at your convenience.
If you are concerned that the cause of your radiating back/hip/leg pain might be something serious, check the more serious possible causes of your pain below to see what doctors say about when to worry about radiating hip and back pain.
You can also consult our handy back pain quiz, which will help you use your symptoms to diagnose possible causes for your pain.
What Is Radiating Pain
Radiating pain is pain that âradiatesâ from one area of the body to other areas of the body. When pain in one area of the body causes pain in other areas, this is known as âreferred pain.â In fact, radiating lower back and hip pain can cause pain in all kinds of places near these areas like
- Thigh muscle pain
- Sharp pain in the toes
- Lower calf pain
Note your symptoms from the list above and use these to learn your diagnosis with our helpful descriptions of symptoms, possible causes, and when you should get to a doctor or emergency room to know how to treat your injury.
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What Causes Lower Back Pain That Radiates Down The Leg Is It Treatable
Many people who suffer from chronic low back pain experience lower back pain that radiates down the leg after performing a high stress exercise like running or weight lifting. If you are one of those people then you know how painful it can be when an entire part of your leg, shin, or foot goes numb. What causes this sudden numbness in the leg, and how is it connected to your lower back?
Types Of Leg Pain That Are Actually Caused By A Back Problem
No doubt about it, your legs endure a lot of stress throughout your life, leading to a general wear and tear that may result in pain. However, not all sources of leg pain are caused by issues related to the joints, muscles, ligaments, tendons, or cartilage that make up your lower extremities.
Its possible that the electric shock sensation you feel shooting down your leg every time you reposition your body is due to a back problem. At Texas Spine Consultants in Addison and Plano, Texas, our orthopedic surgeons specialize in spine health and help many people get relief from their leg pain by treating the underlying back problem responsible for the traveling pain sensations.
To save you from unnecessary testing and treatment of your legs, we want to share with you the types of leg pain that are actually caused by a back problem.
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Lumbar Spinal Canal Stenosis
Stenosis means narrowing, and lumbar spinal canal stenosis is narrowing of the space available for nerves in the lumbar spine. Narrowing of the lumbar spinal canal can put pressure on the nerves, which may cause back pain, pain down the sciatic nerve, numbness and weakness of the legs.
If you have lumbar spinal canal stenosis you may have no symptoms. Or you may have low back pain that radiates to the buttocks and legs, or just leg pain. The pain often occurs when you stand or walk. Spinal stenosis tends to affect older people rather than younger people.
Back Aches And Pain In Both Legs
Central lower back pain that gradually spreads down both legs is often a symptom of latent conditions such as spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease. Stenosis refers to the abnormal narrowing of one or more structures in the spinal area. There are two main forms of stenosis foraminal stenosis and central canal stenosis.
Foraminal stenosis is characterized by nerve compression that arises due to the narrowing of a structure called the neuroforamen an opening in the spinal column through which spinal nerves exit. When foraminal stenosis develops, it means spinal nerves have less space and may become pinched, irritated, inflamed, or dysfunctional.
This form of stenosis can arise in any of the foramina along the spine, but it is frequently detected in the lumbar spine. Foraminal stenosis can also develop in the cervical spine , but is rarely observed the thoracic spine.
Central canal stenosis occurs when the narrowing of the spinal canal compresses the spinal cord and nerve bundles. The spinal canal is a hollow, protective passage that encases the spinal cord and numerous nerve roots. Similar to foraminal stenosis, central canal stenosis reduces space around the spinal cord, leading to both nerve root and spinal cord compression.
People who are suffering from back pain that extends to the legs should speak with a physical therapist who can determine if a health problem such as stenosis or degenerative disc disease is the reason for the pain.
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