One of the most common problems of the elderly is that of lower back pain. This does not mean, however, that lower back pain or lumbago is not common in other age groups as well. Fortunately, it often subsides within a short time with little or no treatment.
Because the lumbar region of the back (the small of the back) undergoes considerable stress when a person twists or lifts, it can become sprained quite easily. The pain produced by lumbago or lower back pain makes movement painful and sufferers are generally unable to work during these episodes. The majority of sufferers recover in a week or two and require little or no medical treatment. Often, rest is all that is needed.
Although lower back pain is usually caused by a back condition, it can also be caused through other medical conditions.
A very common cause of lower back pain is that of muscle injury. This is usually brought about by stress which is normally the result of bending incorrectly or lifting while carrying excess weight. This type of back sprain is characterized by pain and stiffness that is evident within a few hours of the injury. It generally subsides within a day or two although more severe strains may last longer.
Some recurrent backaches are caused by inflammatory conditions such as osteoporosis. This condition is caused by the degeneration of the joint in the backbone through wear and tear and is often more painful in the morning. Another painful and persistent inflammatory condition that causes persistent lower back pain is called ankylosing spondylitis. A slipped or prolapsed disk can also be to blame for the discomfort of back pain.
Severe lower back pain can also be caused by a crush fracture which can result from a fall or other injury. A crush fracture happens when a vertebra collapses. Other medical causes are mestastases or secondary deposits of cancer and also spinal bone tumours.
Osteoporosis, a common condition of the elderly, weakens the bones and makes the pain of arthritis even more unbearable. It is caused by a reduction in the calcium content of the bones. Because the backbone is weakened, compression fractures become more likely and, as a result, there is severe lower back pain.
Another cause of lower back pain can be due to the uterus becoming tipped during childbirth. Kidney infections can also be a cause.
Pain and tenderness on movement usually begins within 2-24 hours of an injury or muscle tear. This can include any sprain or strain of the muscles or ligaments and is usually noticed after lifting heavy objects.
The abovementioned symptoms are similar in the event that a lumbar disk slips or is ruptured. However, in this instance the pain is more severe. The bck muscles go into painful spasms and the simple act of coughing or sneezing also creates pain in the back. Sciatica is different again in that the pain spreads from the back, down the buttock and down the leg.
Osteoporosis and other conditions caused by degenerative joint conditions come on gradually and is long term. The pain is generally mild to moderate but is recurrent over a period of several years.
In some conditions such as fibroids which are harmless tumors in the uterus, as well as in the case of large abdominal tumor or pregnancy, the presence of lower back pain is only one of a number of symptoms.
It is rare for lower back pain to be considered as dangerous although some untreated symptoms may become dangerous. One such symptom is an untreated disk which may be pressing on the spinal cord. This, if left untreated, could lead to paralysis. Also, lower back pain caused by infection in the spinal vertebrae may be dangerous as could secondary cancer though these conditions in the spinal region are very rare.
Most strains and sprains of the back are easily treated and respond well to minimal treatment. Basically, the main treatment is rest by lying flat on a firm surface. Sometimes the use of an infrared lamp or a heat pack can be beneficial as it relaxes the muscles. Also, a gentle but firm massage and the application of liniment on the affected area, will normally give substantial relief. A painkiller such as acetaminophen should be taken. Lifting and carrying of heavy objects should be avoided during the recovery period.
Where there are serious medical causes, such as prolapsed disk, abdominal tumors, or an infection, the treatment is changed according to the condition. Often, in more chronic cases, it may be advisable to wear surgical belts or surgical corsets during the day.
Using proper lifting and carrying techniques can often prevent lower back pain as can the use of swimming and other exercises that strengthen the back muscles. In the elderly, persistent attacks of lower back pain may be a natural part of the aging process and therefore, something that must be accepted.
Most people who suffer from an attack of lower back pain make a total recovery within a week or two and do so with little or no treatment. In the case of a protruding disk, recovery may take several weeks but there is normally no need for surgery.
How to Prevent Lower Back Pain
- Bend the knees and keep the spine straight when lifting or carrying heavy objects.
- Wear sensible and well fitting shoes.
- Whether at home or at work, find a comfortable position from which to work.
- Be careful of twisting and bending when getting in and out of motor vehicles.
- If advised, wear a support brace or corset to support your back.
- Lift or carry anything heavy when recovering from lower back pain.
- Overexert your back. Always ask for help if necessary.
- Sleep on a soft bed. A firm mattress is better for your back.
- Twist and stoop to get into motor vehicles.
- Ignore the need for medical help if lower back pain persists.
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