Pain in the lower back can either be short lived (acute) or what seems like a never ending issue (chronic). Often people have lower back and leg pain from sciatica (sciatic nerve injury) that is felt traveling from the lower back, the buttocks and down the back of the thigh.
Lower back pain has been the second most common reason for patients to visit their doctor and has been costing the American economy about seventy-five billion each year. About 80% of people living in America will at some point in their lives experience severe enough lower back pain that will cause absence from work. This is why it is a major issue that should be better understood and prevented.
Symptoms of Lower Back and Leg Pain
Pain in the lower back can be localized, diffuse, radicular, or referred. These different symptom characteristics can tell your doctor or physiotherapist what to rule in or out as the source of your pain.
Localized Lower Back Pain
Localized pain in your lumbar back is typically felt as soreness and discomfort and sometimes when touched will cause spasms. This can be an indication of muscle strain from overuse or other soft tissue injury within the lower back.
Diffuse Lower Back Pain
Diffuse pain within the lower back spreads to involve a larger area and is typically associated with an injury in deeper tissue layers.
Radicular Lower Back and Leg Pain
Sciatica is the common form of radicular pain. Radicular refers to the nerve root and when the nerve root is irritated this sends symptoms down the length of the nerve like the sciatic nerve.
Referred pain can be deceiving in that it feels like your lower back is in pain when in fact what is causing the pain is not the spine but an inflammation of an organ like your kidneys or your abdomen. This is why your doctor will ask you if you had a history of kidney stones, urinary tract infections, heart murmurs, peptic ulcers, or diabetes.
Causes of Lower Back and Leg Pain
The most common types of back pain are caused by a musculoskeletal issue. These types of spinal injuries are a result of an accumulative effect of poor posture, bad body mechanics, stressful conditions, loss of flexibility and reduced physical fitness. Months and years of wear and tear accumulate and you may not notice a problem until it is severe in that a disc has bulged out between the vertebrae or osteoarthritis has set in where joints have been warn away.
A musculoskeletal issue can be acute and resolve within a few weeks however repeat acute injury can lead to chronic injury sooner down the road that is why proper body mechanics is important to prevent any type of injury. Typically an acute lower back injury is felt as local pain that comes on within 24 hours of heavy lifting or overuse of muscles. The person usually feels better when resting and can help the condition with muscle relaxants and cold/hot compress.
Chronic lower back and leg pain can be more complicated when finding the cause of the condition but most commonly it is a result of disc degeneration that is bulging out of the spine and putting pressure on the nerve root. Other causes to be ruled out include spinal mass or tumor, or spinal stenosis. Very rarely a tumor can be the cause of pressure on the spine or spinal nerves. This mass could originate in the spine or spread from cancer elsewhere in the body. Spinal stenosis is a narrowing of the spinal canal typically from abnormal bone growth and can put pressure on the spinal cord. Typical lower back and leg pain however is most likely a result of disc herniation (bulging) and will be treated properly with the help of a physiotherapist. Here you will learn to improve posture, practice proper body mechanics at work and home, and do exercises that will increase your strength and flexibility.