Getting to the Bottom of Low Back Pain

When you have low back pain it seems like it’s all you can think about. Whether the pain is dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, it can really get in the way of your daily activities, making it difficult to enjoy life to its fullest.

Side view of a herniated discPeople feel symptoms from a herniated disc differently. See What's a Herniated Disc, Pinched Nerve, Bulging Disc...?

We’ve always believed the better educated you are about your health, the more empowered you are to make good healthcare choices to get you back on the road to a pain-free life. With that in mind, here are the basics you need to know about having low back pain.

Understanding low back pain

First of all, you should know that “lumbago” is just another term for low back pain, so if you hear your physician refer to that term, you’ll know what they mean.

Secondly, it’s important to understand that the amount of pain you are feeling does not necessarily (and probably really does not) equal the amount of damage you have. This can be difficult to accept, but truly, a severe muscle strain in the low back can knock some people off of their feet, while others are walking around with a severe herniated disc.

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Finally, it’s important to be aware that getting a correct diagnosis is difficult, but extremely important. Your back is made up many different structures: muscles, bones, tendons, joints, discs, and nerves, all of which need to be examined for a correct diagnosis.

Diagnosing the cause of low back pain

As I mentioned, getting a correct diagnosis is very important so that you will receive the correct treatment. The number one reason for failed back surgery is an incorrect diagnosis. In other words, it’s because your surgeon operated on something that wasn’t causing you pain in the first place. Make sure you are comfortable with your doctor, and that he or she does a thorough physical examination and orders imaging tests if necessary. Very rarely, your back pain could signal an emergency.

Once your doctor has done a thorough exam, he or she will determine that you have 1 of these 3 types of low back pain:

  • The most common back pain: axial
  • Low back pain with referred pain
  • Lumbar radiculopathy

3 types of low back pain

Axial back pain simply means that the pain is staying in one area (your low back), and not traveling to other parts of your body.

Referred pain means that while the pain is located in the lower back, it radiates into the groin, buttock, and upper thigh.

Finally, you may experience pain that radiates into the leg or foot. This type of pain is often due to a compressed nerve, and is called radiculopathy, or sciatica.

Be a proactive patient

While your doctor or surgeon has spent years studying and is most likely an expert, everyone experiences back pain differently, so every case is unique. As a low back pain patient, it’s important you take an active role in your medical care, communicating well with your doctor, understanding your diagnosis, and actively participating in your treatment options.

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