Lower back pain may be felt not only in the back but also be manifested in your leg – radiating from the front, side or spreading to the back part of your leg, becoming worse as you carry out your daily activities. You may even feel some numbness in the part of your leg that does not receive enough blood flow because of a pinched nerve in your lower back. This condition may prevent you from plantar flexing your foot or raising your big toe upward indicating that there is a problem in the fifth lumbar vertebra.
Low back pain is said to be second only to the common cold as a major cause of absenteeism at the workplace, affecting up to 90% of American adults at some point in their lives. Doctors report that lower back pain is also one of the most common neurologic complaints, second only to headaches, why people visit a doctor’s office or rush to hospital emergency rooms. Americans spend more than $50 billion a year on medications for lower back pain. More than half of the adult population will have more than one episode in their lifetime.
It must be noted, however, that lower back pain is not a particular disease but is rather an indication of a problem in the general area. The pain is called “acute” when it is felt for less than a month and “chronic” when it lasts for a longer period of time. Very often, even with a thorough medical testing, the cause of lower back pain is not easy to pinpoint. There may even be certain episodes when the lower back pain symptoms will improve within two months, the pain going away by itself even if no treatment is given.
Lower back pain may be a symptom of a problem in the lower back or be caused by disease or injury to the muscles, bones, and/or nerves of the spine. The lower back pain may also be caused by some abnormalities in the body organs located in the general area of the abdomen, pelvis, or chest. The patient may be suffering from certain disorders such as appendicitis or aneurysms or may have infections of the kidneys, bladder, pelvis or the ovary. A woman may experience lower back pain often during the period of her pregnancy because the ligaments within the pelvis are stretched too much due to the extra weight in the abdomen, causing the nerves to become irritated and straining the lower back muscles in the process.
Another lower back pain symptom is when a nerve root in the lower back area is impinged, that is, when a nerve between the lower back vertebral bones is herniated. The medical condition called “sciatica” is an example of nerve root impingement. Usually the pain starts in the buttocks and goes down the back of the leg as far as the ankle or foot, producing sharp stabbing pain. The patient may also feel some numbness in the leg area.
As people grow older, the spinal discs grow thinner and degenerate evolving into a condition called “herniated discs.” This happens when the jellylike central portion of the discs in the vertebra pop out of the central cavity, pushing against a nerve root and causing the lower back pain. One-third of adults older than 20 years of age may develop herniated discs but only 3% of these will experience lower back pain as a symptom of nerve impingement.