The Importance of the Lower Back

The Role of the Lower Back in the Body

The lower back plays one of the most important roles in daily functional movement, as it provides support to your whole body. It connects the upper body with the lower body and is essential in any position you’re in. Even when sitting still, the lower back receives a lot of stress and compression.

The spinal structure is designed to help us perform everyday movements such as bending, twisting, lifting, and reaching. The lower back supports the whole upper body during these movements and when standing and provides internal protection to tissue and organs such as the kidneys, colon, pancreas, and reproductive organs.

At Premier Pain Clinics, we are passionate about helping our patients recover from chronic pain in order to live a happier, healthier life. We offer minimally invasive treatments for chronic low back pain near Montclair and other NJ locations. If you are experiencing this type of pain, leave us your information and we will contact you to help you schedule an appointment with one of our specialists.

The Lower Back Structure

The lower back is quite a complex structure, but in brief, it is a combination of small bones called vertebrae, fibrocartilages called intervertebral discs, ligaments, tendons, muscles, and nerves.

Vertebrae are stacked together with intervertebral discs in between; the latter provide cushioning and protection as the body moves. The lumbar vertebrae are labeled L1 to L5 and progressively increase in size, supporting the upper body and protecting important nervous tissue. Ligaments hold the vertebrae in place, and tendons connect the muscles to the spinal column, stabilizing it and allowing movement.

Some of the muscles in the lower back are the multifidus, which supports the vertebrae of the spine; the erector spinae, which are long muscles that help keep the spine upright; the external obliques, which allow your torso to rotate; and the quadratus lumborum, which is technically an abdominal muscle that is located on both sides of your lumbar spine.

Additionally, there are five pairs of lumbar spinal nerves rooted to the spinal cord; these nerves are labeled L1 to L5 as well and progressively increase in size. They send and receive messages between the body and the brain, controlling body movements.

The three vital tissues in your lower back are the spinal cord, the conus medullaris, which is the point where the spinal cord ends, and the cauda equina, which is a group of spinal nerves that descends from the conus medullaris and forms a shape similar to that of a horse’s tail.

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Statistics & Facts About Low Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common complaints doctors get—in fact, it is the third most common reason for visits to the doctor’s office. It can affect anyone, from children to the elderly, but people become more prone to it between the ages of 30 and 50, and the risk keeps increasing with age.

It is the single leading cause of disability in the world, and experts estimate that about 80% of Americans will experience it at some point in their lives. Moreover, 8% of adults in America (about 16 million) experience chronic back pain.

Back pain is also the leading cause of missed workdays; it accounts for more than 264 million lost workdays in one year. About half of all working Americans have back pain symptoms each year, and the ongoing increase in sedentarism is not helping. It is the sixth most expensive condition in the US. Its costs exceed $12 billion per year, and about $50 billion are spent by Americans on healthcare costs related specifically to low back pain.

About 90% of low back pain cases are non-specific or mechanical, which means they are related to abnormal stress or strain in the spine, intervertebral disks, or surrounding soft tissues and not to a serious underlying condition. On the other hand, only 10% of cases are related to systemic diseases like infection, cancer, spinal stenosis, cauda equina syndrome, etc. Although most people recover, recurrence is quite common; approximately 50% of patients experience recurrent low back pain within the first year after an episode.

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Common Myths About Lower Back Pain

Myth: If you have low back pain, you should rest and avoid activity.

Reality: It depends on the case; typically, a couple of days of rest may help, but more than that can make it worse, especially when it comes to non-specific pain. Experts recommend regular physical activity since it is proven to help release muscle tension and reduce inflammation.

Myth: Exercising will make low back pain worse

Reality: It’s normal to be fearful about exercising when you’re in pain. However, if your doctor has ruled out serious causes for your back pain, certain types of exercise can help ease the pain long-term. In many cases, physical therapy is prescribed as part of pain treatment. Our back pain specialists in NJ can help you determine which type of exercise is most beneficial to your particular case. They will usually recommend gentle movements and stretching, and gradually increase the intensity, although low-impact exercise is usually the best option. Even though it is not a cure for chronic back pain, exercise can complement pain treatment if done with professional guidance, and it is an important habit to live a long, healthy life. 

Myth: Low back pain is caused by inflammation

Reality: Certain conditions cause inflammation in the body and can be present in acute or chronic pain, but this is not always the case. In fact, in most cases, low back pain is mechanical, which means it will most likely respond well to simple, mechanical treatments.

Myth: The low back is a weak structure.

Reality: The whole back structure is designed to protect the spinal cord and provide support, strength, and flexibility to the rest of the body, which means it is the opposite of weak. However, it does work extremely hard to do all of this and is constantly carrying a lot of weight because of it. This is why it is so important to keep it strong, which involves strengthening other parts of the body as well, such as the core.

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Can Back Pain Be Prevented?

The prevention of back pain is somewhat controversial; it has been studied from different perspectives, but there doesn’t seem to be a single, definite answer. Nevertheless, what is known is there are several things you can practice in daily life that can help protect your back from mechanical, nonspecific low back pain, such as:

Paying attention to your posture

If you have to stand for a long time, keep your head up and your stomach pulled in. It also helps to rest one foot on a stool, switching feet constantly. When sitting, try using a chair that has a straight back or low-back support and keeping your knees a bit higher than your hips.

Lifting things the right way

Avoid bending over from the waist to lift heavy objects. Instead, try bending your knees into a squat, pulling in your abdominal muscles, and holding the object close to you as you lift.

Resting your back after prolonged bending

If you are doing something that requires bending forward for a long time, like some household chores, you will probably notice your back feels quite stiff afterward. This is because this posture causes certain changes in your discs and ligaments that last for a few minutes.

If you put stress on your lower back immediately after this period, you may easily injure it. Try to stand upright for a few minutes and allow the spinal tissues to recover before lifting something or doing anything that requires effort from your back.

Sleeping position and the right mattress

Some sleeping positions are especially hard on the back, such as sleeping on your stomach or flat on your back. If you prefer sleeping on your back, try putting a pillow under your knees and another under your lower back. Sleeping in a fetal position (on your side with your legs pulled up slightly towards your chest) can also be a better choice.

Mattress preference may also vary depending on the person, but generally, people tend to experience back discomfort or pain if the mattress is too soft or too hard. It’s best to use a medium-firm mattress, especially if you experience chronic low back pain.

Using an ergonomic office chair and taking breaks

An ergonomic chair that supports your back and thighs correctly and helps with alignment is ideal. It should have an appropriate height for the task to be done to avoid putting excessive pressure on the discs in your lower back, which can cause further problems.

If you are working on a desk all day, you should also take regular active breaks. This may look like stretching for a few minutes or going for a short walk. The key is doing it several times throughout the workday to avoid putting too much strain on your back for long periods of time.

Performing low-impact exercise

Regular physical activity can help ease inflammation and muscle tension, and low-impact exercise can be especially beneficial for back pain. Types of exercise such as pilates, yoga, tai chi, and other core-focused activities have proven to be very effective since they help strengthen the core muscles, which are essential in supporting the spine.

Low-impact cardiovascular exercise, such as normal or brisk walking, can also help by increasing blood flow to the spine and stretching your muscles. Physical therapy is also proven to be very beneficial to ease low back pain, especially when it is used to complement other treatments such as alternative therapies or interventional pain management.

Stretching

Stretching your whole body has many benefits and is especially important before performing any physical activity. Specifically, tight hamstrings can contribute to low back pain, so simple hamstring stretches can help reduce pressure on your pelvis and relieve pain across your lower back.

Some hamstring stretching exercises can also help relieve leg pain associated with lower back problems, such as sciatica. However, you must check with your doctor or physical therapist first to avoid injury and determine which exercises are best for your particular situation.

The case is much more complex when we’re talking about chronic low back pain or low back pain caused by serious, underlying conditions. If you have persistent and/or disabling low back pain that is significantly affecting your daily life, contact us to schedule an appointment or solve any questions you may have. We have specialized pain management clinics near Montclair and other NJ locations, and we will be happy to help you recover your health and improve your quality of life.

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Sciatica: What You Should Know

Sciatica refers to nerve pain that radiates from the lower back into one of the legs. It is caused by the irritation or compression of the sciatic nerve, which is the largest nerve in the body (there are 2 sciatic nerves in the body, one on the right side and one on the left).

Sciatica tends to develop over time rather than appearing suddenly after a particular event, and it is common in people whose occupations require strenuous positions, such as bending the spine forward or sideways or raising the arms frequently above the shoulders.

The majority of people who experience sciatica get better within 4 to 6 weeks with the help of nonsurgical treatments; however, if there are severe neurological deficits, recovery will take longer. If symptoms are progressive and there is severe nerve compression, surgery may be needed.

A common misconception of sciatica is that it is a diagnosis when in reality, it is a group of symptoms corresponding to the injury of the sciatic nerve.

These symptoms are caused by other medical conditions such as:

  • A herniated or slipped lumbar disk.
  • Spinal stenosis.
  • Spondylolisthesis.
  • Lumbar degenerative disk disease.
  • Osteoarthritis.
  • Trauma injury to the lumbar spine or sciatic nerve.

More rare conditions that can cause sciatica are:

Sciatica typically occurs in one leg, although it may affect both legs. The pain can range from mild to severe and may vary depending on the cause; some patients describe it as sharp shooting pain, while others describe it as burning or stabbing. It can be constant or intermittent and may worsen in certain positions or with certain movements, usually sudden ones. Along with pain, other symptoms associated with sciatica are:

  • Numbness along the lower back, the back of the leg, the buttock, or the foot.
  • A tingling and/or “pins-and-needles” sensation in the affected leg.
  • Weakness in the affected leg.

Symptoms of sciatica may also vary depending on which nerve root has been affected. The sciatic nerve is made up of 5 nerve roots—L4, L5, S1, S2, and S3—but symptoms usually appear when L4, L5, and/or S1 nerve roots are affected.

Sciatica and other types of back pain tend to respond positively to alternative therapies and interventional pain management procedures like radiofrequency ablation (RFA), spinal cord stimulation, and injections. These are all minimally invasive procedures that have proven to be highly effective in providing long-term relief to patients who experience chronic low back pain and who have not found relief with other treatments like lifestyle changes or medication.

At our pain management centers in NJ and PA, we have highly skilled professionals that are prepared to help you live your healthiest life, free of pain. If you are experiencing persistent low back pain and are near Montclair, NJ, don’t hesitate to request a consultation below to have one of our specialists evaluate your situation.

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FAQ About Low Back Pain

What is the difference between acute back pain and chronic back pain?


Acute back pain lasts anywhere from a few days to about 12 weeks, and it is usually intense. Chronic back pain lasts more than 12 weeks and persists even after the cause is addressed. It may range from mild to severe, but it is typically experienced every day and affects the quality of life.

Is sciatica permanent?


Most sciatica cases get better with no permanent nerve damage—however, sciatica pain shouldn’t be ignored. It should be evaluated by a medical professional in the following scenarios:

  • If it’s not relieved with rest, self-care techniques, and/or exercise.
  • If the pain develops as a result of an injury to the back.
  • If the pain becomes intolerable.
  • If additional symptoms are present along with the sciatica pain, such as:
    • Severe weakness or numbness in the legs, groin, and/or genital area.
    • Fever.
    • Swelling in the lower back, thigh, and/or leg.
    • A pulsating feeling in the leg or thigh.
    • Change in color of the skin on the legs or feet (such as a blue color that indicates vascular insufficiency).
    • Changes in bladder and/or bowel control, or blood in the urine or stool.

Are alternative therapies and interventional pain management safe?


Studies have shown these types of treatments are quite effective in treating low back pain. Although there are possible (mild) side effects, the risk of complications with these procedures is minimal. Our treatments at Premier Pain Clinics are safe, minimally invasive procedures that allow the patient to resume their normal life within a short period of time. Feel free to contact us to know more about our clinics and treatments.

How can I schedule an appointment with a specialist?


You can leave us your information here and we will get back to you as soon as possible to help you schedule an appointment and solve any questions you may have. If you want to schedule an appointment directly, you can call us at (973) 531 2199 Monday through Friday from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.