Dealing with Lower Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

Medically reviewed by Dr. James Tan

Dealing with a sudden bout of acute low back pain? You’re not alone! Whether you’re an office worker, a student, or a professional athlete, this common issue can strike anyone at any time. It might have started gradually over the course of the morning or maybe it hit you all at once. Whatever the case may be, back pain can stop you in your tracks. 

To help you manage the pain and get back to your old self again, let’s look at a few effective lower back pain treatments, possible causes of pain, and ways to prevent issues. 

Here’s your complete guide to acute lower back pain. 

What Is Acute Low Back Pain?

When we talk about acute lower back pain, we are referring to the sudden onset of pain in your lower back region. This specific type of pain is often characterised by its short duration but incredible intensity. Unlike chronic lower back pain, which lasts for weeks or even months, acute back pain tends to last for a much shorter time period. The specific time that you’re dealing with it might range from a few days to a few weeks. Despite this short period, the impact of this kind of acute back pain can majorly impact your daily life and seriously affect your overall well-being.

Chronic Low Back Pain vs. Sudden Lower Back Pain

The main differences between chronic low back pain and sudden onset lower back pain are the following:

  • Onset: Chronic back pain develops gradually over time while sudden back pain starts quickly, often after an injury or specific event.
  • Duration: Chronic back pain persists for 12 weeks or longer. Acute or sudden back pain is short-lived, lasting days to weeks.
  • Cause: Chronic back pain usually results from underlying conditions like arthritis, degenerative disc disease, or prior injuries. Sudden back pain is more likely due to strains, sprains, fractures, or a herniated disc.
  • Nature of pain: Chronic back pain tends to be dull, achy, and constant. Sudden back pain is often sharp and localised.
  • Aggravating factors: Chronic back pain worsens with prolonged activity. Sudden back pain can occur with a specific movement and may seriously limit mobility.
  • Relief factors: Chronic back pain may temporarily improve with rest or pain medications. Sudden back pain is often relieved quickly by stopping the aggravating activity.
  • Associated symptoms: Chronic back pain may cause referred pain and neuropathy. Sudden back pain may cause muscle spasms and radiating pain.
  • Serious causes: While chronic back pain is usually non-specific, sudden back pain may indicate a vertebral fracture, infection, or cauda equina syndrome.
  • Diagnosis: Chronic back pain diagnosis involves imaging and lab tests like MRI scans to rule out underlying conditions. Sudden back pain evaluation focuses on identifying a specific injury or cause.
  • Treatment: Chronic back pain treatment relies on pain management, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes. Sudden back pain is treated by addressing the underlying injury or condition.

Essentially chronic back pain is ongoing whereas sudden lower back pain starts quickly and can often be linked to a specific incident or cause, such as kyphoscoliosis. While only your doctor can confirm your case, these guidelines can help to frame the situation. 

Why Does My Back Hurt: Causes of Low Back Pain

A wide range of factors can cause intense, sudden lower back pain. Sometimes it is as simple as pushing yourself too hard during an intense workout like F45 or HIIT and other times it may be as unexpected as kidney stones. 

The only way to know for sure what is causing your back pain is to see a doctor. Before you go though, there are a few possible causes of lower back pain that are worth considering to help you decide what might be going on.

  • Muscle strains or sprains: Overuse, bad form, or sudden movements can strain the muscles and ligaments in your back. When you have a tear in your tendons or muscles, it is called a strain. When you have tears in ligaments, you are dealing with sprains.
  • Bulging or ruptured discs: The jelly-like discs between the vertebrae in your spine can bulge or rupture, pressing on nearby nerves. This often causes severe low back pain that may radiate down the leg.
  • Arthritis: Osteoarthritis of rheumatoid arthritis in your spine can lead to inflammation and degeneration of spinal joints, causing back pain. This pain often becomes worse with movement.
  • Skeletal irregularities: Conditions like scoliosis or a difference in leg length can put abnormal pressure on the back and spine, leading to pain.
  • Osteoporosis:  Weak, brittle bones caused by osteoporosis can lead to tiny fractures or collapsed vertebrae in the spine, leading to acute pain.
  • Pregnancy: The extra weight and strain from pregnancy can cause back pain, especially as the due date approaches. Labour and delivery can also cause acute back pain.
  • Kidney stones or infections: Kidney stones or kidney infections can cause pain in your lower back. 
  • Endometriosis: This condition after your uterus and can refer to pain in your lower back and pelvis, especially during menstruation.

As always, it’s essential to talk with a healthcare professional to help get the pain to control and prevent complications.  

Symptoms of Lower Back Pain

To help figure out what is bothering you, it’s important to define what is happening. Here are some signs that you are dealing with acute pain in your lower back:

  • Localised Pain: When you’re dealing with acute pain, you will find that it is usually concentrated in your lower back region and doesn’t radiate to other parts of your body in most cases. 
  • Sudden Onset: Acute pain usually comes on suddenly, often after you have done a specific activity or particular movement.
  • Limited Mobility: Because of the pain and muscle stiffness, your range of motion will likely be limited and simple daily tasks can become difficult.
  • Muscle Spasms: The muscles in the affected area might contract involuntarily, causing spasms that can exacerbate the pain. When you’re dealing with severe back pain, these spasms can be debilitating. 
  • Pain Relief with Rest: Unlike chronic pain, acute pain often improves with rest and simple home back pain treatment.

How to Treat Acute Low Back Pain

Lower back pain is one ailment that you often can treat at home. Unlike chronic back pain, acute pain responds well to home remedies. Here are a few easy at-home lower back pain treatments that will make a major difference in your comfort level. 

  • Rest: Getting off your feet can make a significant difference in your pain level but it’s essential to proceed with causes. While it’s important to rest when you’re dealing with acute pain, you should avoid prolonged bed rest. When you spend too much time sitting and lying down, you can slow down your recovery. Your best way forward is to gradually start doing gentle movements but continue to avoid activities that make the pain worse.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Relief: Non-prescription pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can make a real difference in the amount of pain you have while also reducing inflammation.
  • Hot and Cold Therapy: Applying heat or cold to your lower back will provide temporary relief. Opt for cold packs for the first 48 hours and then move on to heat therapy.
  • Physical Therapy: If your pain persists, it’s time to talk to a physical therapist. They can guide you through exercises tailored to your condition and help with proper form.
  • Stretching and Strengthening Exercises: Once your pain starts to get a bit better, move on to gentle stretching and strengthening exercises to help improve flexibility and support your back muscles. You can also check out this video below for stretching exercises to relieve lower back pain.

You might also be interested in these exercises to improve shoulder mobility and strengthen your core.

How to Prevent Acute Low Back Pain

While sometimes it’s hard to prevent lumbar pain, there is a lot you can do to make acute pain happen less often. Here are a few effective strategies:

  • Good Posture: Wherever you are sitting or standing, pay attention to maintaining good posture. Knowing how to move in a way that keeps your back healthy will significantly reduce your risk of straining your back.
  • Exercise Regularly: Regular physical activity and strategic workouts will go a long way in keeping your back muscles strong and flexible. Workouts like swimming, walking, pilates and yoga are low-impact workouts that will help to keep your back healthy and pain-free. Always remember to warm up and stretch to avoid muscle cramps.
  • Lift Properly: Whenever you are lifting something or performing deadlifts, make sure to always bend your knees. Your goal is to use the strength of your legs rather than your back. To help keep the weight evenly distributed, keep the object you’re carrying close to your body and be sure to avoid making any kind of twisting motions.
  • Ergonomic Workspace: If you have an office job or regularly use a computer, it is crucial to make sure that your workspace is ergonomic. Work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) are actually one of the most common kinds of occupational illnesses in Singapore. As we all spend more time online, we are more prone to aches and pains. Fortunately, good ergonomics will make a major difference. Look at your chair, desk, and computer monitor to make sure that it is properly aligned to support a neutral spine posture. Take the time to learn how to set up an ergonomic computer desk to prevent pain. 
  • Stress Management: It is impossible to overvalue the connection between your mind and your body. Stress wears you down and makes you more susceptible to pain. To prevent health issues across the board, look to stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness to stop muscle tension and all of the pain that comes along with it.

Getting Help for Lower Back Pain in Singapore 

Acute low back pain is a frustrating and uncomfortable experience. Fortunately, with the proper knowledge and approach, it is entirely manageable. By understanding the causes, recognising its symptoms, and knowing how to get started with effective pain reduction strategies, you can alleviate pain, promote healing, and reduce your risk of future back pain. 

Keep in mind, however, that if your pain is severe or persistent, it is vital to get professional medical advice such as a chiropractor to be sure that you have an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment plan. Check out this article to understand the difference between a chiropractor and orthopaedic doctor. With the right care and attention, you can stop acute lower back pain and get back to your life. We also provide treatment for knee pain as well as shoulder pain treatment.

Looking for a doctor in Singapore who can help you get rid of lower back pain? Let’s talk! Our team of experts is here for you. We also specialise in orthopaedic surgery as well as PRP treatments.

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Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

About the Author

Dr James Tan is a highly skilled orthopaedic surgeon who has more than 10 years of experience in sports surgery and exercise medicine. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.

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