Lumbago describes a low back pain which may vary from a constant dull ache to shooting pains in the lower right or left lumbar quadrants. It can manifest as an acute pain with a sudden onset, or present over a period of several months as a nagging chronic pain which has failed to improve either by itself or with medication. Symptoms of lumbago also include stiffness in the lower back when getting out of bed or standing from sitting for a while, pain on prolonged standing such as in a queue. There will be a loss of flexibility and the patient will be guarding against any sudden movement. Pain or tingling can often radiate into the buttock region. Occasionally muscle spasms can be so strong that your posture deviates to one side or forwards so that you are unable to stand up straight.
The most common cause of lumbago is from a repetitive strain or a single overloading (such as a bad lift) of the soft tissues and musculature of the lumbar spine. The pain from the injury causes muscle spasm and muscle spasm itself is painful and so a slow downward spiral begins to take effect ultimately resulting in the postural deviation.
Self Help for Lumbago
Try to keep moving as much as possible. Prolonged periods of inactivity such as an extended drive or long dinner party will only tighten the back further.
A heat pack will help the muscles to relax.
All lifting should of course be avoided until the painful spasms subside.
Gentle stretching will also help to reduce the muscle spasms.
Most cases of lumbago will resolve themselves in a few days however if the muscle spasms persist then it is time to seek help.
Your GP will be able to prescribe non steroidal antinflammatories and a muscle relaxant. Occasionally an X Ray may be ordered but is not always necessary to diagnose lumbago.
The first aim of physiotherapy treatment is to ease the muscle spasm and reduce the pain.
Heat packs, massage and passive stretching techniques can be used and electrotherapy treatments such as ultra-sound and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TeNS) may be used to reduce pain.
A lumbar support belt can give immediate relief as it helps take some of the strain off the muscles and will also help protect from further muscle spasm.
Once the pain is under control (which may take more than one appointment) The physio will then be able to check if there has been any loss of range of movement in the spine. It is quite common for a recovering painful back to be left with some limitation of flexibility, especially if a lumbar support belt has been used. A treatment of vertebral mobilisation and lumbar quadrant techniques ( such as Maitland’s Method) will help to regain any lost flexibility.
Lumbago does not usually present with lower leg pain and so if you have any symptoms in the legs such as numbness, tingling or referred pain, then it is best to see your physiotherapist as soon as possible for a full back assessment.
The Physiotherapy Centre
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