Lumbago impacts millions of Americans each year. Treatments for lumbago vary, as pain will localize to the lower back or travel down one or both legs. Pain traveling down the legs is called lumbago with sciatica. We will discuss the causes, signs, and symptoms of lumbago to determine whether you need to see a medical professional.
What Structures Comprise My Lower Back?
Your lower back, or lumbar spine, contains six vertebrae. These include the 5 lumbar vertebrae, usually numbered L1 to L5, and the sacrum, usually numbered S1. The sacrum sits just below L5. Nerves from the spinal column exit these vertebrae and travel down into the legs. The sciatic nerve, the body’s longest nerve, stretches from the lumbar spine to the feet.
Specialized muscles connect near the spine and hold you in the proper position to walk, sit, or stand. Facet joints also connect to the vertebrae. These help keep the spine in the proper position both in motion and at rest.
Injuries to any of these structures, or to more than one of them, can lead to lumbago. Utilizing proper technique for lifting and exercising prevent injury to the spinal muscles or vertebrae.
Back pain of fewer than 12 weeks duration is considered acute. Back pain lasting more than 12 weeks is considered chronic.
What is Lumbago?
Medical professionals use the term lumbago to describe pain in the lower back. If the pain radiates from the back to the legs, the diagnosis changes to lumbago with sciatica.
Any irritation of the sciatic nerve in the lower back, where it exits the spine, can lead to lumbago with sciatica.
Is Lumbago a Disease?
Lumbago is not a disease or illness in the same sense as chickenpox or the flu. Lumbago describes the condition of having low back pain. Chickenpox and the flu result from specific viruses and have specific treatments. The causes of lumbago vary greatly. No biological process connects these causes. The actual cause of your lumbago will dictate the type of treatment ordered by your provider.
What Causes Lumbago?
Lumbago can have many different causes. Your medical provider may have trouble pinpointing the exact cause without diagnostic imaging. However, the following are known to cause lumbago:
- Overworking the back
- Excessive bending
- Sitting too long
Activities such as overworking the back or sitting too long place stress on the low back. This can lead to muscle or joint strains. The pain caused by the strains is your body’s way of signaling a lower back problem. Click here for an informative video on how your lumbago can be naturally relieved.
Lumbago with sciatica describes a condition that impinges on or irritates a nerve exiting the spine as it travels into the legs. Causes of lumbago with sciatica include:
- Herniated disc
- Compression of a spinal nerve
- Spinal stenosis
A herniated disc or compression of a spinal nerve may prevent proper nerve function, resulting in pain, numbness, and weakness. In his article, Ian Hart, a backpain specialist explains how he has helped thousands of people break free of back pain without medications or surgery. Click here for the article.
What are the signs and symptoms of lumbago?
Lumbago has many symptoms, with back pain topping the list. Symptoms of lumbago include:
- Pain or muscle tightness near the spine in the lower back
- Restricted motion of the lower back, either up and down or in rotation, caused by pain or tight muscles
- Pain spreading from the lower back through the buttocks and down into the leg. The pain may or may not extend all the way down to the foot
- Swelling located in the back or the leg
- Difficulty rising from a chair or bed
- Difficulty walking
- Muscle spasms
How Will My Medical Provider Diagnose Me?
What techniques your medical professional uses in your diagnosis will depend on what they suspect as the cause of your lumbago. Your provider will perform a physical exam and likely take x-rays to determine the pain sources and the extent of your loss of motion. Often the provider will order conservative treatment before determining if additional tests are needed.
If your lumbago fails to resolve quickly, the provider may order additional tests. The physical exam may include the straight leg raising test, which helps determine whether a patient may have underlying structural issues, most commonly a herniated disc. Herniated discs can lead to lumbago with sciatica.
Spine-health.com explains that in cases of lumbago with sciatica, an MRI or CT scan may be used to determine if the nerves are compressed or compromised. An X-ray does not show nerve compression and will not help determine the extent of any deformities of the nerves.
How Will My Medical Provider Treat Me?
Initial treatment in all but the most severe cases of lumbago will include conservative treatments, such as a home exercise program, physical therapy, and NSAIDs. Conservative treatment often leads to resolution without expensive tests or invasive therapies.
Most lumbago results from muscle or joint strains. Lumbago caused by strains should receive conservative treatment, such as ice, stretching, and NSAIDs. Strains usually resolve themselves with a period of conservative treatment and reduced activity. Patients with lumbago caused by strains should continue to perform most of their regular tasks, avoiding those that result in pain or muscle tightness.
If conservative treatment fails, the next steps will depend on the results of any additional diagnostics your provider recommends. Most likely, another round of conservative treatment will occur before moving on to more serious and potentially invasive treatments. A doctor may prescribe muscle relaxers in addition to NSAIDs to help relax overactive muscles in the back.
What Exercises Help With Lumbago With Sciatica?
Several exercises will help treat lumbago with sciatica. Click here for our full article and 12 exercise for sciatica and lumbago. These include:
- Simple seated sciatica stretches
- Standing piriformis sciatica stretches
- Supine piriformis sciatic stretches
- Outer hip piriformis sciatic stretches
- Groin/long adductor sciatic stretches
- Inner thigh/short adductor sciatic stretches
- Side-lying clam
- Kneeling hip extension for sciatica
- Knee to stretch sciatic stretch
- Sciatic mobilizing stretch
- Back extensions
- Reclining pigeon pose
Performing these exercises only until symptoms resolve could result in a relapse. According to Harvard Health, preventing future lumbago cases requires continuing to exercise and stretch. Make sure you use the proper form to prevent a worsening of your lumbago.
Lumbago impacts most people at least once during their lifetime. If you exercise, maintain a healthy weight, and stretch, you improve your chances of avoiding lumbago or escaping a more severe case of lumbago with sciatica.
If you suffer from chronic lumbago or have a severe case of acute lumbago with sciatica, you may wish to see your medical provider. If you recently acquired lumbago, you may wish to treat it with ice, NSAIDs, and the stretches listed above before seeing a medical provider. They will likely prescribe the same treatment. If you have additional questions about your lumbago, seek professional help.