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Lower Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options


Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 15-Jul-2023

Lower back pain is a widespread condition that affects millions of people worldwide. Whether it’s a dull ache, a sharp shooting pain, or persistent discomfort, lower back pain can affect your ability to perform everyday tasks and can adversely impact your quality of life. Fortunately, there are a range of treatment options available to address both the causes and symptoms of lower back pain. These include conservative options such as rest, cold or heat therapy, physical therapy, and pain medication. They also include chiropractic care, acupuncture, and massage therapy. In more severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary, but it is typically considered a last resort. However, each person’s experience with lower back pain is unique and causes do vary. Injury or trauma, poor posture, a sedentary lifestyle, muscle strain, herniated discs, arthritis, and spinal abnormalities are common triggers. Because of this variability, effective treatment options often involve a multifaceted and personalized approach. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for lower back pain, to help you gain a better understanding of how to manage and overcome this potentially debilitating condition.

Causes and Symptoms of Lower Back Pain

Understanding the causes and symptoms of lower back pain is crucial for effectively managing your condition and for identifying the most appropriate treatment option. Here’s a quick overview.

Causes of Lower Back Pain:

  1. Trauma or Injury: Trauma or injury can be a significant contributor to lower back pain. Sudden accidents, falls, or sports-related injuries can cause damage to the structures in your back, such as muscles, ligaments, discs, or the spine itself.
  2. Posture and Lifestyle: Poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle can cause lower back pain. Slouching or sitting for prolonged periods with incorrect posture places added stress on your lower back leading to muscle imbalances and strain. A lack of physical activity weakens the supporting muscles of the lower back, making them more prone to injury and discomfort.
  3. Muscle Strain: One of the most common causes of lower back pain is muscle strain. This happens when the muscles and ligaments in your lower back are stretched or torn due to sudden movements, lifting heavy objects incorrectly, or poor posture over an extended period.
  4. Herniated Disc: Your spinal column consists of vertebrae separated by discs that act as cushions. A herniated disc is when the soft inner material of a disc pushes through the tough outer layer, putting pressure on nearby nerves.
  5. Degenerative Disc Disease: As we age, the discs in our spine can naturally degenerate, losing their flexibility and cushioning properties. This condition, known as degenerative disc disease, can cause chronic lower back pain due to the reduced ability of the discs to absorb shock. It may also lead to the development of bone spurs, which can compress nerves and contribute to pain.
  6. Spinal Stenosis: Spinal stenosis refers to the narrowing of the spinal canal, which puts pressure on the spinal cord and nerves. This condition is often age-related.
  7. Arthritis: Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can affect the joints in your lower back, leading to inflammation, stiffness, and pain.
  8. Structural Abnormalities: Structural abnormalities in the spine, such as scoliosis (abnormal curvature) or lordosis (excessive inward curvature), can contribute to lower back pain. These conditions can disrupt the natural alignment of the spine and strain the surrounding muscles and ligaments.

Symptoms of Lower Back Pain:

  1. Localized Pain: Lower back pain often manifests as a persistent or intermittent ache in the lower back region. This sensation can range from mild to severe and may be aggravated by certain movements or positions.
  2. Radiating Pain: In some cases, lower back pain can radiate down into your buttocks, thighs, and legs. This is commonly known as sciatica, which occurs when a herniated disc or spinal stenosis compresses the sciatic nerve. The sensation can be sharp, shooting, or burning, and it typically affects one side of the body.
  3. Muscle Spasms: Muscle spasms in your lower back can cause sudden, intense pain. These spasms are the body’s protective response to injury or strain and can further exacerbate lower back pain.
  4. Stiffness and Reduced Mobility: Lower back pain can result in stiffness and limited range of motion, making it challenging to perform everyday activities such as bending, lifting, or twisting.
  5. Numbness and Tingling: If a nerve in your lower back is compressed or irritated, it can lead to numbness, tingling, or a pins-and-needles sensation in the buttocks, legs, or feet.
  6. Weakness: Severe lower back pain or conditions like spinal stenosis can cause muscle weakness in the legs, leading to difficulty with walking, balance, or coordination.

Treatment Options for Lower Back Pain

While lower back pain can have a significant impact on your quality of life, there are a number of effective treatment options available. However, because the cause and related symptoms of each person’s experience varies, effective treatment strategies often involve a multifaceted approach. For most people, non-surgical options are enough to provide relief and address underlying causes but in more severe cases, surgical options may be required.

Rest and Over-the-Counter Pain Medications

Initially, taking short periods of rest and avoiding activities that exacerbate your condition can help in the healing process. However, it’s important to strike a balance and gradually resume normal activities to prevent deconditioning and stiffness. Concurrently, the use of non-prescription pain relievers, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or acetaminophen, can help manage your symptoms by reducing inflammation and providing temporary relief.

Yoga and Mind-Body Practices

Yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates and other mind-body practices offer holistic approaches to managing lower back pain by integrating physical movement, breath control, and relaxation techniques. Through specific poses, stretches, and mindful movements, these practices improve flexibility, strengthen core muscles, promote proper alignment, and increase body awareness. By targeting underlying causes, such as muscle imbalances and poor posture, yoga and mind-body practices can help alleviate pain, reduce inflammation, and enhance overall well-being.

Cold and Heat Therapy

Cold and heat therapy can be beneficial in managing lower back pain. Cold therapy, such as applying ice packs or cold compresses, can help reduce inflammation, numb the area, and temporarily alleviate pain. This is typically recommended for the first 48 hours after an injury. Heat therapy, which involves using heating pads or warm baths, can promote blood flow, relax muscles, and provide relief from muscle tension and stiffness. It’s often used for chronic or ongoing conditions.

Physical Therapy and Exercise

Physical therapy and exercise play a crucial role in managing and reducing lower back pain. Your physiotherapist can identify underlying issues associated with your condition including muscle imbalances, poor posture, or weak core muscles that contribute to your pain. She/he can then create a tailored exercise program, including stretching, strengthening, and stabilization exercises to improve flexibility, promote proper alignment, and strengthen the supporting muscles of your lower back. This helps to provide relief, enhance stability, and even prevent future episodes. Your physiotherapist can also provide information and tools to help you with improving you body mechanics and ergonomics.

Chiropractic Care

Chiropractic care focuses on the relationship between the spine and the nervous system. Your chiropractors will utilize manual adjustment techniques to realign your spine, alleviate joint restrictions, and reduce inflammation. By restoring proper spinal alignment, chiropractic care can relieve pressure on your nerves, improve spinal function, and reduce your symptoms. Your chiropractor may also incorporate additional therapies such as soft tissue manipulation, stretching exercises, and lifestyle recommendations.

Massage Therapy

Through hands-on manipulation of soft tissues, such as muscles and connective tissues, massage therapy helps improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and promote relaxation. By targeting specific areas of discomfort, massage therapists can release knots, improve flexibility, and alleviate pain in your lower back. Different massage techniques, such as Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, or myofascial release, may be employed based on your particular needs. Massage therapy also promotes a sense of well-being, reduces stress, and enhances the body’s natural healing processes.


Acupuncture involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body to stimulate the release of endorphins, promote blood circulation, and reduce inflammation. It can alleviate pain, relax muscles, and improve overall well-being. Additionally, acupuncture sessions may include other techniques such as cupping or electrical stimulation to enhance the therapeutic effect. As a non-invasive and drug-free treatment option, acupuncture offers a holistic approach and has been widely recognized for its efficacy in providing relief and promoting healing.

Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)

By delivering low-voltage electrical currents through electrodes placed on the skin, TENS therapy interferes with pain signals, providing temporary pain relief. The electrical stimulation also triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-relieving chemicals and improves blood circulation to the affected area.

Prescription Medications

In cases where over-the-counter pain medications are insufficient, stronger prescription medications may be required. Muscle relaxants, topical analgesics, or nerve pain medications can be prescribed by your doctor to provide short-term relief. However, it’s important to be aware of any potential side effects and risks.

Epidural Steroid Injections (ESIs)

ESIs involve the injection of a corticosteroid and a local anesthetic into the epidural space around the spinal nerves. This procedure aims to reduce inflammation and alleviate lower back pain, especially when it radiates down the legs. ESIs can provide temporary relief and facilitate participation in physical therapy programs.

Radiofrequency Ablation (RFA)

RFA is a minimally invasive procedure that can provide long-lasting relief. It uses heat generated by radio waves to disrupt pain signals from specific nerves in the back. By targeting the nerves responsible for transmitting pain, RFA can effectively alleviate chronic lower back pain. This procedure can provide significant relief and improve quality of life for individuals suffering from conditions such as facet joint pain or sacroiliac joint dysfunction. It offers a relatively safe and effective non-surgical option when other non-surgical treatments haven’t provided sufficient relief.

Surgical Options

Surgical options are considered when conservative treatments have failed to provide relief. They may also be considered for cases of severe pain, neurological deficits, or structural abnormalities. Spinal decompression surgeries such as microdiscectomy, laminectomy, and spinal fusion aim to relieve pressure on nerves or stabilize the spine. Artificial disc replacement replaces a damaged disc with an artificial one, preserving spinal motion. Other surgical interventions include nucleoplasty, IDET, and vertebroplasty or kyphoplasty for specific conditions. Surgical options should be evaluated on an individual basis, taking into account the underlying cause, severity of symptoms, and overall health.


Lower back pain can be debilitating experience and can significantly affect your quality of life. Fortunately, there is a wide range of non-surgical and surgical treatment options available for addressing underlying causes and providing relief. Of course, because causes and symptoms do vary, and because each treatment option has its advantages and considerations, it’s important to get properly diagnosed with by an experienced healthcare professional. With an accurate diagnosis and the right combination of treatments options, your can get relief from your symptoms, improve your ability to function, and enhance your overall quality of life.

If you’re experiencing lower back pain or want to learn more about treatment options, contact us today and let us show you why, at Physiomed, Healthier Starts Here.

Frequently Asked Questions Related to Lower Back Pain

Q1. What are some common causes of lower back pain?

Lower back pain can be caused by a variety of factors, including muscle strain from lifting heavy objects or sudden movements, herniated discs where the inner material protrudes, degenerative disc disease with age-related wear and tear, spinal stenosis which narrows the spinal canal, arthritis affecting the joints, and structural abnormalities such as scoliosis or lordosis.

Q2. How can I distinguish between normal back pain and a more serious condition?

Distinguishing between normal lower back pain and a more serious condition can be challenging, but certain factors can help. Normal lower back pain is often related to muscle strain, poor posture, or overexertion, and typically improves with rest and self-care measures. However, if your condition involves severe pain that doesn’t improve with conservative treatments, numbness or weakness in the legs, loss of bladder or bowel control, unexplained weight loss, or a history of cancer or trauma, it’s important to seek medical attention promptly, as these symptoms may indicate a more serious underlying condition that requires further evaluation and appropriate medical intervention.

Q3. What are some non-surgical treatment options for lower back pain?

Non-surgical treatment options include rest and over-the-counter pain medications, heat or cold therapy, physical therapy and exercise, chiropractic care, massage therapy and acupuncture. In some cases, medications like muscle relaxants or epidural steroid injections may be prescribed. In more extreme cases, surgery may be required.

Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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