Nearly 80 percent of adults experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, answers common questions about lower back pain.

What causes of lower back pain?

Most lower back pain is the result of changes in the way the spine, muscles and other parts of your back fit together and move. Lower back pain can be short-term (acute), long-term (chronic), sudden and sharp or dull and constant. Common causes are mild sprains and strains, arthritis, disc degeneration and skeletal irregularities. In rare cases, lower back pain can be caused by bone infections or tumors. If you experience abnormal lumps, a fever or swelling, see a doctor immediately.

Who is most likely to get back pain?

Most people will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Factors that can increase your chance of developing lower back pain are:

  • Older age
  • Physical inactivity
  • Poor posture
  • Pregnancy
  • Weight gain or being overweight
  • Genetics
  • Improper, heavy lifting at work
  • Heavy backpacks

How are lower back problems diagnosed?

If you are having lower back pain, your doctor may ask when you started experiencing pain, its severity and any limitations in movement to determine whether your pain is acute or chronic. Acute pain often resolves on its own. If you have chronic pain, it may be difficult to diagnose with a physical exam. Your doctor may request an x-ray, CT scan or other imaging test to find the cause of the pain.

What are some ways I can relieve my back pain?

Treatment options for lower back pain depend on whether your condition is acute or chronic. Acute back pain can often be relieved immediately with hot/cold packs, stretching and over the counter pain medication. Some people who experience back pain may benefit from physical therapy and acupuncture. Depending on the cause and severity of the pain, you may opt for surgery or another procedure to relieve the pain and pressure on your back.

How can I prevent back pain?

Follow these simple tips to help prevent back pain:

  • Eat a balanced diet to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Strength train at least two to three times per week.
  • Practice yoga to stretch and improve your posture.
  • Avoid movements that strain or jolt your back.
  • Bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting heavy objects so your leg muscles do most of the work.
  • Consider using furniture designed to improve your posture and protect your back.

Sources:National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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