Ask the Doc: Lower Back Pain 101

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by THERESA LARSON, DPT, Marine Corps Veteran, CrossFit Coach

Ask the Doc: Lower Back Pain 101

Acute low back pain symptoms can range from spasms, burning pain down the leg, a centralized pain in the low back and/or butt region, or aching pain at the base of the spine.
So…have you ever tried to bend over to pick up your kid, deadlift, front squat, or snatch with poor form and/or too much weight? Have you ever tried to pull a massive object like a boulder out of your driveway (like my dad), carry a guy on your shoulders who is 2x your weight (me!), and/or pick up your baby after having a C-section and felt your back give out? Perhaps all you wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry?

Do you have an athletic trainer who stalks you or is like your body guard? No? Really…why not? Just kidding — neither do I.

Regardless, you are not alone — millions of individuals in the United States suffer from acute low back pain for various reasons every year. Roughly $100 billion is spent every year on acute (7-14 days post-injury) low back pain injuries, according to the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association [1]. Chronic (3-4 weeks and up to 6 months post-immediate injury) injuries are a whole different ball game and are also up there in terms of the billions of dollars spent in our health care system. Not surprisingly, these chronic conditions usually occur when the reason for the acute condition was not taken care of immediately.

Addressing Lower Back Pain

Addressing Lower Back Pain
Acute low back pain symptoms can range from spasms, burning pain down the leg, a centralized pain in the low back and/or butt region, or aching pain at the base of the spine. The pain may feel like a hot spot or like none of the muscles in your back are working. We all can call our primary care physician and get the top ten list of what medicine to take for the pain – naproxen,  ibuprofen, even Vitamin M (military term for Motrin). But what can you do aside from ingesting pills to help alleviate the immediate symptoms that sometimes take you out of the game and literally lie you flat on your back with disbelief? Of course there are positions and lifting techniques to master, but for this short period of time, when you feel like you are in the twilight zone or the pain cave, let’s get you moving correctly as soon as possible.

Beyond meds: I would work to rectify the situation with proper movement, regardless of the issue. Vitamin M (Motrin) would be out of the question, and we would seek to relieve the immediate symptoms with how you position yourself.
As a sports medicine and performance-focused doctor of physical therapy, if you were my client — or if I were still in the Marines and you were in my platoon or company — I would work to rectify the situation with proper movement, regardless of the issue. Vitamin M (Motrin) would be out of the question, and we would seek to relieve the immediate symptoms with how you position yourself. Let me be clear that we are NOT taking into account any central nervous system damage, other traumas, or diseases such as ankylosing sponydyolysis, spinal osteoblastomas, osteoporosis, osteonecrosis, etc. Rather, we are talking about musculoskeletal injuries such as vertebral disc herniations, bulges, facet joint dysfunction, spondylolysis, sprains in the ligaments, or strains in the muscle supporting the spine. These injuries happen, and your doctor, physical therapist, chiropractor, coach, mommy or daddy may not be there or know how to coach you through what to do next, so here it goes.

Keep in mind all that these techniques are intended to help get you back to moving correctly so you can function. It is merely a band-aid. The main issue to address is why this did happen in the first place: those reasons are overuse, poor form, too much weight, or any combination of all of the above.

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