Treatments for low-back pain

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We have all suffered lower-back pain. It is responsible for more lost work hours than any other malady

Low-back pain is that unreasonable ache that finds you unconsciously rubbing your lower back. That low-level pain just won't go away -- and you can't remember how you got it!

There are different degrees of back pain and different causes. The non-perfect formation of vertebral elements forming the spinal column is one cause for lower-back pain.

Within the lower spinal column, there are five lumbar vertebral bones. These vertebra are usually mobile elements that allow lots of full rotation movement at the waist. But sometimes nature hands out a fifth vertebra that is fused to the pelvis by extra bone. It is called sacralization of the fifth-lumbar vertebra.

A fused fifth-lumbar vertebra that is fused only on one side is called hemisacralization. It spreads uneven force across your lower back area. The shock absorption in this area is uneven, and the mobile side of the vertebra becomes overloaded in trying to absorb the extra shock. This leads to pain and sometimes surgery.

Scoliosis is another cause of lower-back pain. Structural scoliosis, or curved spine, is congenital and means that the bones of the lower back are shaped in such a way to lend a curvature to the total spine. Lower-back spine curvature can also be caused by functional scoliosis, a condition that occurs from the body trying to compensate for uneven leg lengths. Lumbar structural scoliosis is a more common condition in women than men, and sometimes may require surgery to eliminate pain.

For these mechanical problems of the lower spine, rest will usually eliminate the pain, but use brings it back again. Muscle spasms and tenderness of the low back are common. An X-ray can determine the type of lower-vertebral problem you are dealing with. Congenital abnormalities are handled differently than those resulting from uneven leg lengths or short pelvic bones.

Arthritis in the lower back presents another type of problem, and an important one for the athlete. The gradual wearing down of the surface material in the disc and facet joint areas and the possible buildup of bone spurs can cause mild structural abnormalities of the joints. If you have low- back stiffness in the morning or following a sports activity and recurring lower-back pain at six to nine month intervals, you might have arthritis.

Diagnosis is important to find out which type of lower-back pain you have. Treatment can counteract lower-back pain, but there also needs to be an understanding of the problem by the athlete as to how best to train for living with the diagnosis.

Abdominal-strengthening exercises are an essential part to help eliminate lower-back pain from structural abnormalities. Heat can help, as well as shortening the length of your workout. Continued exercise is important to maintain the mobility of the lower back and the strength in the spine's muscles.

A doctor's diagnosis and advice are needed for you to learn to work around mechanical lower-back pain. Lay off on the days when you feel stiffness and tenderness, and listen to your back before the pain takes you out of competition.

Jerry Vance is certified by the American Council on Exercise and teaches fitness at the Carson City Community Center and Healthsmart.


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