What Causes Low Back Pain and How Can Chiropractic Care Treat It?
Learn Where Low Back Pain Comes From and Why Chiropractic Should Be Your First Line of Treatment
If you’re like many Americans, you’re probably starting to experience pain in your lower back. In fact, 80% of people will have disabling low back pain at some point in their lives. Maybe you suffered an injury at work, maybe you’ve developed a painful spinal condition, or maybe you can’t pinpoint any specific cause at all. No matter what the case is, the end result is the same: you have low back pain and you want answers.
“Why do I have low back pain? How can I alleviate my back pain?” We hear this every day from patients at Algonquin Chiropractic Center, where we treat low back pain in Algonquin, IL. Let’s dive into those questions and talk about the prevalence, causes, and treatments for low back pain, including chiropractic care and low back surgery.
How Widespread is Low Back Pain?
When you’re suffering from low back pain, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone and nobody understands what you’re going through. Back pain in our society is viewed almost as a minor inconvenience. Friends, family, employers, and even doctors may downplay how painful and debilitating this condition can be, or even question if you’re faking it. After all, there are not any outward signs that you are in pain, no scar, no cast, etc…
However, low back pain is a real and serious condition, and you’re far from being alone. In fact, in 2010 low back pain was the most common cause of disability in the world, affecting nearly 1 in every 10 people. It’s the leading global cause of “years lived with disability,” or YLD.
Here in the U.S., 31 million Americans suffer from low back pain at any given time. It’s also the number one cause of lost work days, and accounts for about a third of all work-related disabilities.
As a result, low back pain accounts for the third largest share of U.S. healthcare spending of any condition. We spend $87.6 Billion per year treating this condition—the only conditions that cost us more are diabetes and ischemic heart disease.
So, if you’re living with low back pain, you’re not alone—millions of people’s lives are affected by this condition. Luckily, there are also plenty of people and resources dedicated to figuring out how to treat it.
What Causes Lower Back Pain?
Technically, low back pain itself isn’t a condition. It’s a symptom which can be caused by one of a variety of underlying conditions.
Conditions that can result in low back pain include:
- Degenerative Disc Disease (DDD)
- Spinal Stenosis
- Strains and Sprains
- Lumbar Herniated Disc
- Fractures and Dislocations
- And More
Many of these conditions are progressive conditions which build up over time as your body accumulates wear and tear. Others can be caused by traumatic events like car accidents, sports injuries, falls, or even just picking up heavy objects the wrong way. Often, patients may not even know what caused their low back pain.
How Can I Relieve My Low Back Pain?
There are two components of effectively minimizing your low back pain: pain management and treatment. Management includes all the things you can do to minimize the amount of pain you feel. Treatment includes professional procedures aimed at addressing the root problem and improving your condition long-term.
What Home Therapies Are There for Managing Low Back Pain?
Many home therapies, exercises, and lifestyle changes can prevent your low back pain from flaring up as badly. These differ if the cause is a muscular issue, degenerative disease, spinal injury, etc. Consult your local chiropractor to develop a pain management plan that’s right for you.
Some home therapies include:
- Avoiding Bed Rest—Your first instinct may be to stay off your feet. However, this weakens your muscles and intensifies your pain. Stay as active as you can within your pain tolerance.
- Cold Therapy—Apply a cold pack to your back for 15 minutes every 1-2 hours. You could use an ice massage, gel pack, cold pack, bag of ice cubes, or even a pack of frozen vegetables.
- Topical Analgesics—Apply a brand like Bio Freeze where it hurts. These products take the edge off a bit during sleep and daily activities.
- Stretches—Gentle stretches relieve some pain to help you get up after lying down. Examples include knee-to-chest stretches and figure-4 stretches.
- Sleeping Positions and Transitions—Put a pillow under your knees while sleeping on your back. Alternatively, place a pillow between your knees and ankles while in the fetal position. Either position can remove pressure from your intervertebral discs and relieve some pain. Also talk to your local chiropractor about strategies for transitioning between standing, sitting, and lying down. That’ll make things like driving less painful.
What Treatments Are There for Low Back Pain?
There are many different healthcare professionals that treat low back pain. Each one approaches the problem with their own solutions. In fact, the type of care you receive is largely determined by the type of practitioner you visit first.
So, how do these approaches compare?
Drug-based approaches, including the use of painkillers like oxycodone and other opioids, are all too common. These medications don’t address the root issue causing the pain; they only mask the symptoms. That masking effect can be diminished once the patient develops a tolerance for the drug. Not only that, but they’re highly addictive, as we can see from the nationwide epidemic of opioid overdoses. Painkillers should only be used conservatively after other lines of treatment have failed.
Epidural Steroid Injections
Lumbar epidural steroid injections (LESIs) should also be used conservatively. Many types of healthcare practitioners, such as orthopedics, pain management doctors, and primary care physicians may prescribe LESIs as a first or second line of treatment. LESIs may reduce swelling, but they don’t address spinal biomechanics. As a result, they only have a 15% long term success rate when used as a stand-alone therapy. That’s why chiropractors only use them as a supplement when inflammation is hindering our other treatments.
Low Back Surgery
Another option is low back surgery. This should be your absolute last resort for treating low back pain. Back surgeries are invasive and risky, and the data shows they are not more effective than more conservative treatments like chiropractic care. We’ll discuss that data in closer detail a bit further below.
Finally, there’s chiropractic care. A chiropractor utilizes deep knowledge of spinal biomechanics to address the root cause of your back pain. Our gentle, noninvasive, drug-free treatments help to heal and rebuild your spinal nerves and discs, providing real long-term relief. We combine a variety of treatments including the Cox Technic, Spinal Manipulation, Physical Therapy, Massage Therapy, Laser Therapy, Whole Body Standing Vibration, Orthotic Therapy, Spinal Bracing and more, to develop an individual treatment plan designed specifically for you.
Why Should I Try Chiropractic Before Low Back Surgery?
Many people feel their low back pain is so intense that only surgery could make them feel better. However, research shows that chiropractic care is a better first choice for treating low back pain than elective low back surgeries.
Does Low Back Surgery Work?
Very few low back pain sufferers require surgery. Studies indicate that as much as 70% of low back surgeries may have been unnecessary. That’s because patients often don’t exhaust all other treatment options first.
One study found that over 60% of patients referred for surgical consultation for an elective lumbar spinal condition received two or fewer forms of treatment prior to the consultation. For nearly 75% of the patients, their previous treatment was medication, including opioids.
So, does the surgery work?
Researchers reviewed records of patients with disc degeneration, disc herniation, and radiculopathy. Of the patients who had low back surgery, only 26% had returned to work two years later. Of patients who didn’t receive the surgery, 67% had returned to work.
This means that low back surgery has a 74% failure rate, and you have a 257% better chance of returning to work if you avoid surgery!
It gets worse. Researchers have also found a 41% increase in the use of painkillers among low back surgery recipients. This is exactly what you want to avoid as opiate addiction claims so many lives around the country.
The European Guidelines for the Management of Acute and Chronic Nonspecific Low Back Pain state: “Surgery for non-specific CLBP cannot be recommended unless 2 years of all other recommended conservative treatments—including multidisciplinary approaches with combined programs of cognitive intervention and exercises–have failed.”
Do Experts Support Chiropractic for Low Back Pain?
While the evidence does not support low back surgery, prestigious medical journals and healthcare associations recommend chiropractic as a first line of treatment for low back pain.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) published a new guideline last year for lower back pain treatment. It recommends non-invasive non-drug treatments including spinal manipulation and other chiropractic techniques before resorting to drug therapies.
Also last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) published a review of 26 studies which show that spinal manipulation therapy works for acute low back pain with little to no side effects.
The opioid epidemic reveals ugly truths about doctors overprescribing pain medications. As a result, the healthcare establishment has reexamined chiropractic in a new light as an effective and low-risk option for treating low back pain. This long-overdue recognition finally acknowledges the wealth of research out there pointing to the effectiveness of chiropractic care.
If you’re interested to know more about what Dr. Galante and Algonquin Chiropractic Center can do to help treat low back pain in Algonquin, IL, check out the research published by medical journals and the AMA about chiropractic’s effectiveness for low back pain.
However, the only thing that will truly get to the bottom of what’s causing your low back pain and provide effective solutions is a chiropractic exam. Make an appointment with Dr. Galante and take the first step to a diagnosis, a personalized treatment plan, and relief that lets you get back to your life!