Back pain can be accompanied by many symptoms such as stiffness, muscle spasms or numbness. It affects your quality of life in all kinds of situations, including sitting or standing, moving or at rest, during the day or at night. Various healthcare professionals can help you relieve this pain, as well as the symptoms that accompany it, and prevent its recurrence.
Why do you experience back pain?
Did you know that about 4 out of 5 people are affected by lumbago, or pain in the lower back, at some point in their lives?
Back pain can be caused by a sudden injury, such as a blow, a fall, or an awkward move. It can also occur over time due to maintaining an improper posture for too long or repetitive movements, for example.
In some cases, pain from an organ may be felt in an area of the back that corresponds to the same segment of the nervous system in the spinal cord. This is called referred pain.
Primary causes of back pain
Many diagnoses are associated with back pain, such as lumbar sprain, sciatica, herniated disc, scoliosis, spinal stenosis, lumbar osteoarthritis, spondylolysis, spondylolisthesis, etc. A physiotherapy consultation will help you fully understand the structures affected and what you can do to promote their healing.
What are the symptoms of a lumbar sprain?
A lumbar sprain is a stretching or tearing of the ligaments that connect the vertebrae of the back together. Most often, it is caused by an accident, a fall or awkward movement. The muscles of the lumbar region can also be affected.
Symptoms of a low back sprain include pain or numbness in the back, in one leg or both. These symptoms may vary throughout the day and increase when sitting, bending over, or performing any other movement that strains the back muscles.
How does sciatic nerve pain manifest?
Pain caused by sciatic nerve irritation typically manifests as tingling, numbness, or even electric shock sensations in the affected leg, which follow the path of the sciatic nerve. It often accompanies pain in the lower back, but not always. This pain may increase with sitting, prolonged standing, and with hip movement. When it is more significant, the pain sometimes feels like a burning sensation.
Irritation or inflammation of the sciatic nerve, known as sciatica, can be caused by irritation of a nerve root to the spine (by a bulging or herniated disc, osteoarthritis, degenerative changes, etc). It can also be caused by a structure in the leg that prevents the nerve from moving properly, such as the piriformis (also called pyramidal) muscle located in the buttock. When this muscle compresses the sciatic nerve, we then refer to it as piriformis syndrome (or pyramidal syndrome).
The muscles behind the thigh and calves can also cause sciatic nerve irritation.
How do you know if you have a herniated disc?
A herniated disc is not always painful. A large part of the population lives with bulging or herniated discs between the vertebrae without being affected (and even without knowing it!). When symptoms occur, they vary from person to person. You may feel pain or numbness in your back, in one leg, or both. These symptoms may vary throughout the day and increase when sitting, bending forward, or performing any other movement that strains the back muscles. They can also increase when you cough or sneeze.
Very often, lumbar disc herniation is not the result of one particular event, but rather an accumulation of postures or movements that strain the back (sitting for long periods of time, lifting heavy loads with improper technique, torsion, etc.). An accident, an awkward movement or a fall is what triggers the pain the first time.
A herniated disc occurs when the disc located between each vertebra of the spine (which serves to absorb shocks and vibrations) partially “pops out” of its location. Symptoms most often occur when it irritates or compresses surrounding nerve roots.
What are the signs of scoliosis?
Scoliosis is a lateral deformity of the spine. The spine is curved, often in the shape of an “S”, visible to the naked eye or in x-rays. It is common to notice an asymmetrical posture, with shoulders or hips of unequal height, or an asymmetry of the back when leaning forward (one side is rounder and more pronounced than the other). You might feel muscle tension or pain in your back, or even experience difficulty breathing. That said, scoliosis is often painless.
Most of the time, scoliosis develops without the cause being identified. In the other cases, its origin can be postural, from birth
What is spinal stenosis?
Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the central spinal canal in the spine through which the spinal cord passes. It does not necessarily cause symptoms unless there are structures compressing the spinal cord or nerve roots.
The source of the compression can be a herniated disc or a fractured vertebra, although most often these are normal degenerative changes that occur with age. Osteoarthritis sometimes creates bony growths (called osteophytes) on the vertebrae, which narrows the space in the spinal canal.
Generally, symptoms appear gradually and increase over time if left untreated. You may feel pain or numbness in your back, in one leg, or both legs. These symptoms typically increase when standing, walking, bending to one side, or lying on your stomach or back with your legs stretched out. They decrease when sitting and when lying down with bent knees. Spinal stenosis can also cause leg or foot weakness.
Symptoms may resemble those of sciatica (irritation of the sciatic nerve) when the nerve roots are irritated or compressed by spinal stenosis.
What are the symptoms of lumbar osteoarthritis?
Lumbar osteoarthritis is the wear and tear of the cartilage of the vertebrae of the lower back. It is a normal aging process that does not always cause symptoms. When they occur, the most common symptoms are discomfort, stiffness, pain or numbness in the back or in one leg. These symptoms may increase when standing, bending backwards, or during a movement that puts a lot of strain on the back muscles. You might feel more stiffness in the morning.
Exercises often help reduce symptoms, but too much effort can have the opposite effect. A physiotherapist will help you find the right dosage to relieve pain and limit the progression of your osteoarthritis.
How is low back pain treated?
Expert advice: Keep moving
Movement is the best way to promote tissue healing. Avoid keeping the same position for more than 30 consecutive minutes. Keep doing the movements that cause little or no pain. We recommend walking for 5-10 minutes, 3-4 times a day, to lubricate your joints and maintain mobility.
Pay attention to your symptoms so you know when to stop. It is normal to feel a little pain, but when it increases, it is a sign that you need to take a break.
Which professional should you consult?
Different professionals often work together to maximize results. If in doubt, we recommend that you first consult a physiotherapist so that they can assess your needs and the treatments required for the specific condition of your back. If necessary, they will recommend other professional(s) to consult to optimize your rehabilitation.
Why consult a physiotherapist?
After a thorough evaluation of your back, a physiotherapist will explain to you which structures are affected and suggest a treatment plan based on your goals. Different options can be considered such as exercises specific to your condition, joint mobilizations, muscle relaxation techniques, etc. Your physiotherapist will also give you advice on how to relieve pain and get back to your activities.
Why consult an occupational therapist?
An occupational therapist will assess the impact of the condition of your back on your usual abilities such as working, doing household chores and hobbies. Their treatments, which can take the form of strengthening exercises or simulating work tasks, for example, will help you maximize your autonomy at each stage of your recovery.
Why consult an osteopath?
Using different manual techniques, an osteopath will treat mobility restrictions that can affect all the structures of your body (bones, muscles, ligaments, viscera, etc.) related to your back. Better mobility enables the body to recover better and decreases pain.
Why consult a massage therapist?
A massage therapist will work primarily to release tension in the superficial and deep tissues that affect your back to help you reduce pain and move more freely. Their treatments will also help increase blood circulation to promote better recovery.
Why consult an acupuncturist?
Through various techniques and using therapeutic tools such as needles and suction cups, an acupuncturist will work to reduce pain, stress, muscle tension and inflammation that can occur following a back injury.
Why consult a kinesiologist?
A kinesiologist will teach you adapted exercises, based on their evaluation of your ability to move your back and your physical condition, so that you can resume your activities.