Healthy Beginnings

Low Back Pain: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment


Who is affected by low back pain?

Eight out of 10 individuals will suffer with low back pain (LBP) at least once in their life, but the ailment is particularly relevant for people ages 40-80. LBP is the leading cause of job-related disability, and is the biggest contributor to missed workdays.

What causes low back pain?

LBP is a very ambiguous condition that is typically caused by more than one variable. The spine and its associated muscles create the “core” of our body, giving us the strength and flexibility to do all of our daily activities and hobbies. Any kind of imbalance related to the spine itself or surrounding tissues (muscle, ligaments, tendons, discs) can lead to pain. Factors that can cause or exacerbate LBP include increased stress levels, diet, repetitive movements, poor posture, sedentary lifestyle, poor lifting habits, genetics, high impact work/hobbies and age. With these factors in mind, the most common physiological/underlying causes of LBP include disc injury, narrowing of the spinal canal, compression of neural tissue, fracture, arthritis and facet joint irritation.

How can low back pain affect me?

Acute LBP can cause temporary stress in a person’s life, but can typically resolve on its own in 2-4 weeks. If symptoms do not improve by then, seeking medical attention to address any underlying issues is important. A physician and/or physical therapist can help you determine what is causing the pain with the goal of getting you back to your normal life activities. LBP can have major psychological consequences, especially as the problem becomes chronic in nature. Sleep typically starts becoming disturbed. People begin to avoid certain situations or activities due to fear of pain: affecting their hobbies, everyday activities and social life. People may begin avoiding physical activity altogether. The body’s physiological response to LBP changes as time goes on and the body tries to adjust and cope. As pain becomes a long-term, chronic issue it wears not only on physical but mental well being as well. Thus, it’s not surprising that any type of chronic pain is a common cause of depression. Avoiding physical activity is very detrimental to recovery from LBP, and should only be done acutely when pain levels are typically high.

What can I do to prevent low back pain?

Balanced and healthy lifestyle choices have a large impact on how we will deal with pain and injury. Factors found to increase risk for LBP are a history of smoking, repetitive lifting/bending with daily activities or work, age and any unhealthy lifestyle choices related to nutrition and exercise. Exercise is an important component of life, keeping us t and balanced. Exercise regulates our body’s metabolism and releases endorphins that keep us “happy.” Leading a healthy lifestyle is associated with fewer injuries and quicker recovery.

Whether an injury has occurred or not, the most crucial component for a happy spine is always a strong core. Without good spine habits and body awareness, an injury can happen from an activity as simple and bending over to tie a shoe to more stressful heavy lifting. Without a strong core, our bodies don’t work efficiently and cause unnecessary stress on the spine.

What are my treatment options?

Typically, the first step in getting the correct treatment is seeing your doctor. They can provide a variety of options that are available, including: injections, imaging such as X-ray or MRI, chiropractic care, acupuncture, physical therapy, etc.

Building clinical research indicates that it is most beneficial to remain active after an injury. Staying active can bring benefits of increased flexibility and blood flow in an area that is trying to heal. This is where a physical therapist can be very helpful. Physical therapists are specialized in movement analysis, and can do a full evaluation to help determine what mechanisms are contributing and how to adjust habits accordingly.

More often than not, LBP can be alleviated with simple education in body awareness. A surprising number of people are not aware of slight differences in their movement patterns that are causing their pain. This is where making simple habitual changes can make a BIG difference in daily function. As physical therapy treatment begins, the key is a balance of strength and flexibility in a safe and pain-free range. No matter what form of treatment is used to treat LBP, if the underlying poor movement patterns aren’t addressed, there is a much higher change that re-injury will occur.

What types of outcomes can I expect?

Outcomes depend on many variables related to the underlying spine injury, motivation level and prior strength, flexibility and health status. With the help of the right professionals, this pain can potentially be treated quicker, and get you back to your normal daily activities.

For more information, call Sierra Regional Spine Institute at 775-828-CURE (2873) or visit


  1.  “Back Pain- in the face of pain fact sheet.” Accessed June 6th, 2014.
  2. National Center for Health Statistics. Health, United States, 2006 with Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans. Hyattsville, MD:86.
  3. Hagen et Al. Advice to rest in bed versus advice to stay active for acute low-back pain and sciatica. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010 Jun 16;(6):CD007612.