What is lumbago?
Lumbago is simply the medical term for low back pain, a condition affecting approximately 4 of 5 Canadians at some point during their lifetime. It is also one of the most common chronic conditions affecting the citizens of this country.
What are the symptoms of lumbago?
The most obvious symptom are varying levels of pain in the lower back region that range from a dull ache to pain described as unbearable. There is usually stiffness and the condition can severely impact an individual’s quality of life.
The apprehension at aggravating the condition may cause them to avoid any activity that they fear will increase their symptoms. This is the exact opposite of what the individual should do as movement will keep the muscles and joints of the back flexible and mobile.
Lumbago can also flare during sleep and stop you from feeling refreshed in the morning and contributing to daytime fatigue. Physical impacts aren’t the only risk of lumbago as reaching a point of chronic pain can actually lead to psychological impacts such as depression or anxiety amongst others.
What causes it?
Lumbago is a multifactorial condition with no single identifiable cause in 85-90% of individuals. Age, years of bad posture, poor lifting form, genetics, excess weight, and leading a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute to an increased risk of lumbago.
What are the warning signs?
Lumbago is seldom a condition that suddenly develops, and if it is, you can usually relate it to a recent injury such as an improper lift, a fall, or over-rotation of the body.
In most cases, lumbago is a chronic condition that develops over years with symptoms showing up typically between 30 and 50 years of age.
Be mindful of your body and record levels of pain as it should not be the norm to have a persistent dull ache in the lower back.
How is lumbago diagnosed?
As mentioned earlier, lumbago has no identifiable cause in the overwhelming majority of cases. This means it’s up to the healthcare professional to determine how best to approach the unspecific low back pain.
Ruling out nerve root problems is a key concern during the visit with the patient which may involve tests where they test your reflexes, determine whether or not you can feel them make contact with your skin, or lift your leg without aggravating your pain.
What are some risk factors I should be concerned with?
These were touched upon earlier, but it’s important to learn more.
While the ravages of time are impossible to avoid, steps can be taken to ward off the impacts. Exercise to maintain spinal muscle strength can help maintain the strength of the spinal column. When proper form is used, the risk of lift injuries is minimized.
The mantra of, ‘Use it or lose it’ is incredibly accurate when it comes to the muscular system. When we lead a sedentary lifestyle, the muscles waste away and with age it becomes harder to build them up than it was at 25 years old.
Can lumbago be treated at home?
While some aspects of the condition can be treated at home, restoring strength and function to the back is critical and may involve seeking outside help. This help could come from your primary care provider or another professional such as a chiropractor, osteopath, massage therapist, or others.
It’s also important to keep your primary care provider involved as one study showed 90% of patients stop consulting their doctor within three months. However, that research is from 1998 and with people educating themselves, the percentage could well be far lower.
Ways of treating lumbago at home could include some of the following techniques:
1. Continue activities
Waiting too long to return to activities causes the muscles to tighten up. In addition to keeping muscles from seizing up, 30-40 minutes of aerobic exercise causes the body to release a slew of chemicals known as endorphins which reduce the perception of pain. In another study, participants placed on an 8 week aerobic exercise program experienced a decrease in their non-specific low back pain of 47%.
2. Apply heat or ice depending on how long you have had the condition
- Acute – in the acute phase, these symptoms typically for the first 1-6 days and require a cold application. It’s important to reduce swelling and control the inflammation of the tissue. Make sure a barrier is between the cold item and the skin to avoid frostbite. Maintain the cold application on the skin for approximately 20 minutes.
- Subacute – as the pain moves into the subacute stage which is anywhere between one to six weeks, it's important to alternate the application of hot and cold.
- Chronic – finally, progression into the chronic category is pain that lingers for more than six weeks. At this point, heat can be used to bring nutrients to the area and help alleviate some of the pain.
3. Utilize an anti-inflammatory
- Controlling inflammation is a treatment worth considering for pain of any type. While we want to reduce the amount of inflammation, this process can be thought of as step one of tissue repair. A certain amount of inflammation is critical, so one should avoid trying to shut it down completely.
- Arnica montana is a specific herb that has been shown to be on par with NSAIDs by reducing inflammation and increasing the levels of antioxidants in the tissue to which it is applied. Products such as the organic Absolüt Arnica are great to have on hand to apply to the tissue during a flare up, or before one even occurs.
- Whereas Absolüt Arnica is used externally, internal relief can be found using a product known as Joint Pain Relief which contains an herb known as Devil’s Claw (Harpagophytum procumbens). The root of this plant is harvested and contains a large number of harpagosides which inhibit certain pro-inflammatory agents and decrease the inflammation around the body.