Doctors consider acute low back pain (LBP) as pain that is present for up to six weeks. It may feel to you as aching, burning or as sharp or dull stabbing.
You may feel the pain in a particular part of your back or the pain may seem more general. Acute LBP can range from mild to severe. You may feel discomfort radiate down into one or both buttocks or even into the thigh/hip area.
Many people believe that low back pain begins following a strenuous activity or some injury, however it often is difficult to tie the pain to a specific activity. You may notice the pain beginning suddenly or it may develop gradually.
Acute and Chronic Pain
Health care professionals often use the terms acute and chronic to describe the duration a medical condition. Acute best describes the sudden onset of a problem that may only last a short period. Professionals use the term chronic to describe an ongoing episode of pain or disease. Diabetes would be an example of a chronic condition.
The sources of low back pain
It may be difficult to spot the exact source of acute LBP. Your discomfort may come from one or more areas of your low back, including:
Injury or irritation can occur when these areas are strained or stretched. You can also experience sprains to some muscle groups.
Low back pain often heals itself
Acute low back pain often disappears in two weeks (50 percent of cases) to six weeks (80 percent of cases).
It is difficult to predict how long low back pain will last, as the initiating incident is no clue to how long it will take the pain to go away. Even after the pain goes away, some people (30 percent) will have a reoccurrence of the discomfort.
How serious is acute low back pain?
Most cases of acute low back pain are not serious, however the pain may be a signal of a more serious condition, such as cancer or infection.
Pain lasting longer than six weeks and which cannot be eased with over-the-counter medications may be a symptom of a more serious condition and should be evaluated by your health care professional.
What should you do about low back pain?
Many doctors advise people with low back pain to continue their normal activities as much as the pain permits. Activity, excluding heavy lifting and contact sports, keeps the blood flowing to the painful area.
A continued flow of blood is needed to help cleanse the body of irritants that may prolong inflammation and pain. You should modify daily activities to accommodate the pain. You may find walking less painful than running, for example.
What medications should you take?
Over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen can help take the edge off acute low back pain. Be sure to follow the directions for use and do not take more than directed.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) provide pain relief and reduce inflammation. While offering relief for many low back pains, NSAIDs should only be used as prescribed by your doctor.
NSAIDs may have severe side effects for some people and the risk rises with continued use.
Muscle relaxers prescribed by your doctor may help you sleep better when pain is strongest in the first few days of an episode.
Your doctor may also prescribe strong opioid-based pain relievers. These drugs can relieve severe pain, but prolonged usage may lead to intense side effects and physical dependency.
What other treatments are available for low back pain?
Physical therapists have several treatments that may help low back pain, however these are not thought to speed long-term recovery.
In many cases, low back pain goes away by itself - tissues heal, sprain and strains resolve themselves, and so on.
However, if you are unable to continue even modified daily activities or are in severe pain, your health care professional has several treatments that may help. These may include a medically-supervised physical therapy program of physical modalities, exercises and strategies to return you to normal daily activities.
What else might my doctor do about my low back pain?
Fortunately, most cases of low back pain heal themselves. However, if you have severe pain as the result of an injury, your doctor may want to do a thorough physical. Severe and prolonged pain may signal chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and others, which may lead your doctor to take more aggressive steps in diagnosing these potential major health problems.