It does not take a lot to trigger lumbago. Simply an abrupt movement or lifting a heavy load and suddenly every step becomes torture owing to a stabbing pain in the small of the back. Doctors refer to this as lumbar syndrome or lumbago, which comes from the Latin word “lumbus” meaning “loin”. Lumbago is painful but usually harmless and is one of the types of back pain that respond well to treatment. Here you can find out what you need to know about the causes, symptoms and prevention of lumbago as well as treatment possibilities.
What causes lumbago?
Many people have back muscles that are weakened and shortened owning to lack of exercise. This creates an unfavourable situation because the back becomes unstable and poorly equipped for all that happens during your daily routine: If you then make an unusual movement or carry a load you are not used to, it is very likely that the untrained back muscles will tense up and stiffen, particularly in the area of the five vertebral bodies of the lumbar spine (LS) meaning that back pain suddenly occurs. The stiffness and tension can influence the interplay between ligaments and tendons, causing a blockage – in lumbago this usually affects the small joints between the vertebrae. Despite the fact that the pain is often severe, the causes of lumbago are usually harmless.
But if lower-back pain does not disappear completely over a long period of time, starts to radiate into the legs and feet or causes sensations of numbness and tingling, then it is important to rule out pathological changes of the spine and the nerve root irritations that result from this. These include:
- Spinal disc herniation
- Vertebral fracture
What are the symptoms of lumbago?
In acute lumbago, the pain is usually located in the lower back between the lower ribcage and the buttocks. Severe pain normally occurs when you stand up after being in a bent posture, but is mostly limited to one side. Patients describe the symptoms of acute lumbago as a dull, oppressive, piercing, tugging or stabbing pain, mostly in the area of the lumbar spine and the sacrum, dependent on the body posture. In contrast to spinal disc herniation, the pain of lumbago does not radiate down into the legs (sciatica) and there are no symptoms of neurological deficits.
Hours or even days can pass between the trigger for lumbago and the symptoms. Sometimes different types of strain accumulate, meaning that the pain gradually increases to become lumbago. People suffering from lumbago often try to avoid every movement and remain in a relieving posture, but this only protracts the condition in the lower back and can, in the worst cases, lead to generalised back pain.
How is lumbago treated?
First aid in the event of lumbago
- Wrap up warmly and rub anti-inflammatory or pain-relieving ointments onto the affected area.
- Take mild, non-prescription pain-relieving medication such as Ibuprofen.
- To relax your back: Lie flat on your back and bend your legs at a right angle (thigh to lower leg) with a large cushion or pad under your knees so that your spine is lightly stretched (step position = sitting position while lying down)
- You should move again as soon as the pain allows you to. Adopting a relieving posture can mean that you suffer the effects of lumbago for longer.
If these measures are successful and the symptoms have subsided after four days at the latest, you can assume that you were suffering from uncomplicated lumbago.
If you are otherwise in good health, you usually do not need to consult a doctor for lumbago, as the pain usually disappears by itself after a few days.
However, if the pain lasts longer than three days and if accompanying symptoms such as muscle weakness, numbness or even paralysis occur, you should consult a doctor immediately.
As a rule, we take a conservative approach to lumbago. As well as avoiding physical activity this includes pain-relieving medication and heat treatment, as well as the prescription of physiotherapy, massage and chirotherapy.
After a preliminary consultation, we carry out detailed analysis and diagnosis to find the cause of your symptoms. Based on the diagnosis, we create a treatment concept tailored to your individual needs. We can do this on the same day in our four medical care centres – you do not need to make any follow-up appointments and, therefore, save time.
How to prevent lumbago
Lumbago can be regarded as the body’s warning signal that indicates: Be careful, something is not right here; something is missing here. It is, therefore, necessary to train the back in a targeted way and strengthen the back muscles. If you have a sensitive back and tend to suffer from pain in the region of the lumbar spine, these tips can help:
- Regular exercise
- Do exercises for the spine
- Reduce excess weight
- Lift heavy loads carefully and by bending the knees
- Avoid bad posture when sitting, carrying loads or standing
- Ensure your workplace is back-friendly