Lower back pain is not something you have to live with
Busting myths on the causes and treatments of lower back pain
According to recently conducted studies, around 80% of all South Africans will experience some form of back pain in their lifetime. Lower back pain (LBP) is a very common muscoskeletal condition that can often lead to disability.
The prevalence of this potentially debilitating condition is increasing rapidly, raising concern around the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment of this condition.
Dr Jaytesh Pillay, orthopaedic and spine surgeon practising at Netcare Waterfall City Hospital in Midrand, Johannesburg, says that false perceptions about lower back pain may have a great influence on the proper diagnosis and treatment of the condition. “Too many people mistakenly believe that lower back pain is just something they have to live with, without thinking about the cause or realising that it may result in long term damage. Lower back pain can be a sign of serious injuries or another underlying condition and should not be taken lightly,” he cautions.
“Another big problem is fear of surgery, as many people think that the only way to treat lower back pain is with back or spine surgery, which is incorrect. In fact, most cases are treated successfully without any form of surgery,” he says.
Dr Pillay holds that a multi-disciplinary approach is the best way to treat lower back pain. “At Netcare Waterfall City Hospital, we have a fully integrated spinal team consisting of orthopaedic spine surgeons, neurosurgeons, physiotherapists, biokineticists and dieticians. There are many different causes of the condition and therefore a variety of skills are required to treat each individual case appropriately,” he says.
Causes of lower back pain
“The causes of lower back pain are widespread and it is very difficult to pinpoint one or two specific causes. It is most commonly caused by disc disorders and muscle injuries in young patients or degenerative causes in older people. However, it may be more serious in the case of fractures or spinal cord compression. Bearing in mind that there are extra spinal causes of lower back pain such as hernias, bladder or uterus problems.”
Treatment for lower back pain
“Lower back pain can be successfully treated with the use of non-invasive, low risk methods. These may include a combination of exercises, provided and facilitated by a physiotherapist, anti-inflammatory and pain medication, as well as bed rest,” explains Dr Pillay.
“In extreme cases, surgery may be advised, but only after all conservative methods have been exhausted and the patient is fully worked up using various diagnostic tests, specifically an MRI scan. An MRI scan is a non-invasive scan that allows us to visualize the nerves, spinal cord, discs and muscles.
Risk factors associated with lower back pain
“By avoiding certain risk factors, you can greatly reduce your chance of lower back pain as well as improve your general health,” Dr Pillay advises. “Risk factors that increase your chances of developing the condition include obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, hazards such as lifting heavy objects, as well as poor posture and smoking,” he cautions.
Dr Pillay concludes with tips on how you can avoid injury that may cause lower back pain:
- When lifting heavy objects, try to place most of the weight on your knees instead of your back.
- Avoid sitting for long periods of time. If you have a desk-bound job, try getting up and walking around frequently to minimise strain on your back.
- Exercise regularly and pay special attention to your posture while exercising. Try to keep your back straight and your shoulders relaxed. Stretching exercises such as yoga or Pilates can also have a positive impact on your posture and core strength.
- Consider calcium and magnesium supplements, especially if you are over 40. Also consider having bone density tests at this age.
- Improve your quality of sleep by sleeping with your spine in a neutral position on a comfortable mattress.