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What is acute low back pain?

Acute low back pain is a frequently occurring condition across the population and most of us would get some form of back pain at least once in our lifetime. The causes of back pain is still a huge debate amongst clinicians nowadays and despite our medical advancements, there does not seem to be a good explanation for why an individual will get back pain or what structures are the actual cause of the pain.

Seems pretty bleak right? Here’s the good news…most back pains would resolve on their own with minimal treatment and can be managed conservatively without any invasive treatment. However, there are instances where lower back pain is accompanied by other symptoms such as a loss of sensation or an unsteady gait.

Low back pain assessment
Straight leg raise assessment for low back pain

How is acute lower back diagnosed and managed?

It is usually diagnosed through a physical examination carried out by a Doctor or Physiotherapist. Depending on the nature of your back pain and associated symptoms, the medical specialist might order some scans to help determine if there is a specific cause for your pain. In most cases however, a scan is not needed and a Physiotherapist will be able to manage your condition safely and effectively. Only in rare and more severe cases would a surgical intervention be warranted.

When should I go to the hospital for my lower back pain?

Signs and symptoms of a lower back pain may include:

  • Painful unremitting back pain not subsiding with over the counter pain medications
  • Loss of balance/unsteady gait
  • Loss of sensation in the lower limbs
  • Significant loss of muscle strength in the lower limbs
  • Urinary incontinence – unable to control urination
  • Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss over the past month
  • Night pain

How can Physiotherapy help?

The Physiotherapist will carry out an assessment of the lower back region as well as your lower limbs. This would include an assessment of the range of movements in your lower back and a neurological examination of your lower limbs to rule out any nerve involvement. The role of the Physiotherapist is to identify problem areas in the lower back so that treatment can be targeted and effective.

Treatment may include but is not limited to:

  • Advise and education pertaining to your condition
  • Soft tissue therapy
  • Movement with mobilisation
  • Heat therapy
  • Electrotherapy
  • Dry needling
  • Taping to offload lower back muscles
  • Movement training
  • Returning to sport training
  • Personalised home exercise program
  • Pilates for low back pain

Can acute lower back pain be serious?

In most cases of acute lower back pain, no it usually is not serious or life-threatening. However this does not exclude the presence of the high pain levels and mobility difficulties limited by this pain. In cases where pain levels are high, over the counter pain relieving medications can be considered. A visit to the Physiotherapist to help with pain management is also advised.

How can I prevent acute lower back pains from happening?

Due to the lack of hard evidence of how back pain can be caused, it is impossible to make an evidence based recommendation on what you should or should not be doing. However, here are some tips which you might consider:

  • Having a good work setup or good working ergonomics
  • Keeping lower limbs strong
  • Maintain a good exercise regime
  • Getting enough sleep and recovery