What is Lumbago? Top Causes & Symptoms of Lumbago

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man with sore lower back from lumbago
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Lower back pain—it affects millions of Americans every year and its causes can be numerous and often complex. Usually, we refer to lower back pain as exactly that, but the true medical term for this condition is lumbago. In actuality, medical professionals coined this moniker for lower back pain around 400 years ago. Like many terms of great antiquity, lumbago derives from Latin, roughly translating to weakness in the lower back.

Great philosophers and enlightened sages may suggest that lower back pain is an offshoot of existence itself. Perhaps, there is a grain of truth in such a statement. Most likely, you have either experienced lower back pain or will in the future. In fact, doctors believe that as many as 80% of the workforce experiences lower back pain on a weekly basis. It is widely accepted that the ubiquity of lumbago stems from our progression into a more modern, sedentary civilization. In fairness, there is a correlation of evidence for such a claim. That being said, lumbago is also caused by underlying conditions, such as arthritis and other degenerative diseases. If your lower back pain is affecting your daily activities, then it is time to consider a medical consultation.

lumbar spine

Lumbago Risk Factors

Everyone has a slightly different body structure. Simply put, some people are more affected by certain triggers than are others. Sadly, there is no litmus test for these predispositions, so it is best to avoid any unnecessary strain on the body. Examples of such risk factors include:

  • Psychological Stressors: It is commonly accepted that stress makes pain worse, but in some cases, stress itself leads to back pain. Typically, stress is manageable through lifestyle changes and therapy. In other scenarios, the stress is chemically induced and must be remedied through medication and monitoring. In either situation, however, stress-induced pain may happen and it is very real.
  • Sedentary Lifestyle: Many modern jobs require people to sit at desks for prolonged periods of time. This causes extra strain on your back and greatly increases your chance of developing lumbago. Additionally, sleeping in awkward positions produces similar risk susceptibility.
  • Improper Lifting Technique: Even if this doesn’t lead to lumbar damage immediately, it will over time. Using the back to bear weight instead of the legs and twisting the body the wrong way are two of the most common lifting mistakes.
  • Obesity: This is just a natural consequence of physics. If the spine has to support more weight, it will become more susceptible to wear-and-tear.
  • The Natural Aging Process: The structures within the body deteriorate over time, which may lead to lumbar degenerative disc diseases.
  • Repetitive Physiological Stress: Repetitive activities will put stress on bodily structures over time. For example, lengthy or intense bouts of jogging may lead to lumbar back pain as running is a repetitive impact activity.

Conditions That Lead to Lumbago

Lower back pain is interesting in the sense that it is both a condition and a symptom. A person may have chronic lower back pain, or they may have a problem that causes it. The following conditions may lead to pain in the lumbar area:

  • Lumbar Degenerative Disc Disease: This condition occurs when the lumbar spinal discs deteriorate naturally as we age. To an extent, everyone experiences some degree of disc degeneration. However, doctors only use this term when the degeneration leads to pain.
  • Lumbar Herniated Disc: In the most basic terms, the spine is an alternating column of discs and vertebrae. Vertebrae are the bones that compose your spine and discs are the softer material between them. Over time, these discs may wiggle out of alignment or rupture, which is what doctors refer to as a herniated disc.
  • Lumbar Spinal Stenosis: There are many passageways surrounding the spine through which nerves must travel. When these passageways are narrowed, it puts pressure on these nerves and causes lumbar radiculopathy (aka, a pinched nerve in the lower back). However, not all cases of spinal stenosis lead to pinched nerves or sciatic nerve pain. In fact, sometimes this condition has no negative symptoms at all. That said, the condition may also worsen with time.
  • Facet Hypertrophy: The facet joints exist at every level of the spine to provide flexibility and support. Sometimes, the body responds to spinal degeneration by enlarging these joints as a countermeasure to stress. (Think of it as building up a callous.) This “hypertrophy” may put pressure on nearby nerves, causing lumbago.
  • Lumbar Spondylolisthesis: This condition occurs when stress fractures from a vertebral injury lead to structural weakness. When the spine weakens like this, the vertebra may slip out of place causing spondylolisthesis.

lumbar herniated disc leading to lumbar spinal stenosis

Symptoms of Lumbago

Pain is much more broad and nebulous than people typically realize. We often imagine pain in a very isolated sense, like a sharp cut or a bruise, but it doesn’t end there. For example, lumbar back pain may be nociceptive, neuropathic, or psychogenic, etc. However, doctors usually categorize pain as acute or chronic first.

  • Chronic Pain: A persistent pain that lasts for a very long time. Usually, doctors consider pain as chronic if it lasts for 3-6 months or longer. Chronic pain has varying levels of intensity, but it is always persistent.
  • Acute Pain: Basically, the opposite of chronic pain, acute pain is sharp and sudden. Usually, it has a specific underlying cause and it does not last longer than 6 months. In most cases, it resolves and does not return. Many people believe this is worse than chronic pain in severity, but that is case dependent.
  • Nociceptive Pain: This classification is quite broad and breaks down into many subcategories, but there is a common thread. Nociceptive pain occurs when sensory nerve fibers receive stimuli that exceed a certain level of intensity. Usually, this pain is associated with inflammation, extreme temperatures, and mechanical damage.
  • Neuropathic Pain: When the nervous system is diseased or damaged, it causes this type of pain. Medical experts describe this pain as a tingling or ‘pins and needles’ sensation.
  • Psychogenic Pain: Mentioned earlier in the risk factors section, this pain results from mental and emotional factors. Some insist that this pain is not real, but that is simply not the case—as anyone who suffers from fibromyalgia can attest.

Lumbago doesn’t always just end at pain. In some cases, lower back pain causes muscle spasms, nausea, and fevers. And, in the most extreme cases, a patient may even lose control over his or her bowels/bladder.

neuropathic pain

How to Relieve Lower Back Pain

There are both conservative treatment options as well as minimally invasive spine surgeries that alleviate back pain. In most cases, a doctor will exhaust conservative options first before considering surgery. If conservative treatments do not provide adequate pain management, then the doctor will consider surgery. General conservative treatment options include:

  • Chiropractic & Physical Therapy
  • Pain medication (prescription or over the counter NSAIDs)
  • Lower back exercises
  • Meditation
  • Acupuncture
  • Posture correction
  • Heat application

These are just a few examples of the viable conservative treatment options for lumbago. Because lumbago is so broad, the best treatment will depend on the specifics of your case. In order to figure out the best treatment plan for you, good communication with your healthcare provider is key.

woman receiving chiropractic care for lumbago

Surgical Treatments for Lumbago

As with conservative treatments, there are many minimally invasive procedures that alleviate lumbago. Your doctor will present you with options that are best suited for treating your specific case. In more severe cases, your doctor may need to replace minimally invasive procedures with more traditional methods. Some common minimally invasive procedures for lumbago include:

  • Epidural Steroid Injection: The doctor uses fluoroscopic guidance to inject a needle through the skin and at the affected site. Doctors almost always use a local anesthetic for this procedure, with mild sedation being optional at some centers.
  • Laminectomy: If spinal stenosis is causing your lumbago, a doctor may suggest a laminectomy. During this procedure, the surgeon removes a portion of the affected lamina (backside of the vertebrae). This creates more space around the compressed nerves, thus alleviating your pain.

If you are suffering from lower back pain, consider contacting our team of back pain doctors today. Orthopedic Laser and Spine Surgery employs only the most highly skilled spine specialists. Our team of doctors will work tirelessly to craft a treatment plan that suits your individual needs.