Low back pain as a condition is much more common and widespread than most people would imagine. It affects as many as 80% of adults at some time or other in their lives. In countries like the United States, low back pain has been seen to be the reason for missed work and even much job-related disability.
Low back pain can be acute, sub-acute or chronic, depending on the duration for which it persists. If the low back pain carries on for less than 4 weeks, it is regarded as acute; if it persists for between 4 and 12 weeks, it is classified as sub-acute; and if it lingers for more than 12 weeks, it is regarded as chronic low back pain.
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If acute low back pain is not very serious and does not hamper daily activities to a large extent, conservative treatment in the form of rest and application of hot or cold compress may help. While previously it was believed that long bed rest was the best form of treatment for acute low back pain, it is now accepted that physical activity within the limits of the pain may actually aid in the recovery of the patient. Physical therapy in the form of ultrasound and electrical stimulations are also seen to help in the treatment and alleviation of low back pain.
For chronic low back pain, however, more direct and aggressive treatment is desirable. A lot of patients have been seen to seek exercise therapy for the treatment of chronic low back pain. Exercise therapy has even been seen to have positive effects in the case of conditions like kyphosis, scoliosis, and spondylolisthesis. Acupuncture and drugs are known to have some degree of support in the treatment of low back pain, though very often, surgery may be necessary.
Surgery for low back pain becomes necessary when the patient displays neurologic symptoms such as weakness in the legs and incontinence which are associated with severe lumbar disc herniation or spinal abscess.
The most commonly carried out surgical procedures are laminectomy, discectomy, microdiscectomy, spinal fusion or foraminotomy, The use of surgical procedures for the treatment of low back pain is becoming more and more widespread all over the world, especially in the United States. The use of surgery also entails the use of implants, which in turn can lead to nerve loss, blood loss and even repeat surgery.
While people suffering from acute low back pain are seen to recover over some weeks, irrespective of the nature of the treatments undertaken; about 30% of the patients suffering from low back pain are seen to experience a recurrence of the low back pain within a space of one year.
In a large number of cases, alternative treatments such as yoga are seen to be extremely helpful in the case of low back pain. Another therapy like the application of massages and the application of heat and cold has also been seen to have some benefits.