Chronic low back pain (LBP) is pain that lasts for longer than three months.
Chronic low back pain may exhibit many of the same symptoms as acute LBP. The type of pain you feel may include:
The pain intensity can be mild, moderate or severe. The defining factor is pain that continues for three or more months. Patients may experience pain even after the initial injury or condition has healed.
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.
What causes chronic LBP?
Chronic LBP can result from disease, injury or other stresses to bones, muscles, ligaments, joints and/or spinal nerves. Researchers aren't certain what triggers chronic LBP, however they suspect sensitized nerve pathways reacting to a disease or trauma.
In some cases, the pathways remain sensitized even after the original condition heals resulting in chronic LBP.
Diagnosing chronic low back pain
Your doctor will conduct an examination and collect a complete medical history as the first step in diagnosing chronic LBP. This process may uncover the cause, but in some cases, no direct link to an event or illness can explain chronic LBP.
Your doctor will talk through the need for further tests (if any). Tests may include X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computed tomography (CT) scans, blood or other specialized tests.
A thorough examination can eliminate possible causes of chronic LBP such as disease or injury. Even if a direct cause is not discovered, the process eliminates concern over potentially dangerous conditions.
How is chronic lower back pain treated?
Treatment of chronic LBP can involve a number of different options depending on the level of pain you are experiencing and the source of the pain (if identified).
If your doctor can identify the source of pain, strategies to resolve the underlying cause may reduce or eliminate chronic LBP.
Treatments may include:
Many patients find pain relief from one or more of these treatments. Surgery is often the last option explored, unless your doctor identifies a condition that is generally treated with surgery first.
Surgery to treat chronic LBP can range from minimally invasive procedures to more complicated operations requiring the skills of a specially trained spine surgeon.