Lower back pain is the leading cause of physical disability¹ worldwide. Additionally, up to 90% of lower back pain² cases do not have a specific cause. This can be frustrating as it can be difficult for people to resolve their symptoms. Thankfully, there are ways that you can minimize lower back pain. This article will go over the most common methods used to relieve lower back and hip pain, from basic techniques to more advanced interventions.
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There are many causes of hip and lower back pain. Some of them lead to chronic pain, while others to short-term symptoms.
A congenital problem occurs before or during birth. Spinal-related congenital conditions can often contribute to lower back pain. Several common congenital conditions result in irregularities in the spine, including scoliosis, hyperlordosis, and hyperkyphosis. Each of these conditions causes the spine to be structurally misshapen in some way. Spina bifida is another condition that leads to the spinal cord and/or its protective covering not being fully formed.
Injuries to the muscles, ligaments, or discs
There are many structures involved in supporting the body. Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are all body parts that can be injured. Specific to the spine, discs can be damaged while lifting heavy objects or through repetitive manual tasks. Any injury to this soft tissue can be a cause of lower back or hip pain.
Nervous system problems
Inflammation or injury to the spinal cord or nerves can cause back pain. Conditions that involve the nerves include sciatica, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, and osteoporosis. Additionally, ruptured or herniated discs can cause lower back or hip pain on their own. They can also put pressure on specific lumbar and sacral nerve roots on rare occasions, resulting in a dangerous condition known as cauda equina syndrome.
As your body ages, it can lead to general wear and tear. As this wear and tear begins to take its toll on your body, degenerative problems often occur. Over time, the cartilage between your joints and discs can begin to regress. After a while, these degenerative changes may lead to inflammation and arthritis of the spine. A combination of these problems can lead to lower back pain.
Lower back pain can make it difficult to perform everyday tasks. As a leading cause of disability, it can even impact your ability to work and perform other important daily activities. Determining the root cause and the type of pain you’re experiencing will help to determine the best way to treat your lower back and hip pain. Many of the basic treatments below are steps you can try on your own. If they don't alleviate the pain, you should seek your doctor's assistance.
These treatments are the first line of defense against back pain, and you should try them before taking more invasive measures.
Over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, can help relieve pain. Additionally, your physician may prescribe you stronger medications, such as opioids, if you’re experiencing significant pain. Creams, gels, and other topical medications may also help to reduce pain.
Heat and cold are both well-known ways to relieve pain. However, people with aches and pains will respond differently to these types of treatments. Typically, cold therapies are used on people with short-term pain, while heat is preferred for longer-term conditions. Regardless, it may be worthwhile trialing both options to determine how your body responds.
While exercise can help with recovery, you should consult with your doctor or physical therapist beforehand. Certain types of exercise can aggravate lower back and hip pain. However, an appropriate health professional will be able to guide you in the right direction.
A physical therapist will also be able to perform a variety of exercises. They will be able to assess your back and hips to determine the cause of your pain. Following this, they will guide you with specific exercises for short and long-term relief. Additionally, they may diagnose other problems that could be contributing to your symptoms, including your posture and other imbalances.
Some people experience temporary pain relief while using a traction device. This device will use mechanical methods to stretch your spine into better alignment.
Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) is a type of treatment that uses electrical signals to desensitize the location of your pain. It works by blocking pain signals traveling from the painful area to and from the brain. You can purchase a TENS device from a variety of outlets. However, you should consult a relevant medical health professional to ensure that it is safe for you to use.
These interventions are more intensive than the options mentioned above. After consulting with a doctor, you can try them if conventional methods haven’t significantly improved your pain.
Several forms of injection may be used to alleviate back pain. The most common are local anesthetic or corticosteroids injections. Another procedure, known as radiofrequency ablation, uses an electrode to deliver electrical current to the source of the pain. This treatment eliminates the nerve fibers responsible for the symptoms. This procedure can reduce pain for an extended period.
Fractured vertebra, herniated discs, severe osteoarthritis, and spinal stenosis are just a few of the conditions that can be treated by surgery. Depending on the procedure, back surgery can be a serious intervention and is often only used as a last resort. Some surgeries can require months of recovery and, even then, a perfect outcome isn’t guaranteed. Your doctor will be able to give you a better idea of how viable surgery may be for your back and hip pain.
These devices are the more advanced version of the TENS system referred to above. However, these stimulators need to be surgically implanted near the spine to target the affected nerves.
A team of health professionals who are specifically trained in pain management can work together to help relieve your symptoms. These include physical therapists, pain physicians, specialists, psychologists, and dietitians. They will try to help find strategies to alleviate your symptoms, particularly if you’re experiencing long-term pain. Examples include mindfulness, exercise, medications, changing your routines, and even your meal plans.
There are also alternative medicine practices that some people use to alleviate lower back pain. While they are not routinely recommended, people have experienced positive outcomes when attending these services.
This is an ancient method of placing needles into the body at key points. This procedure may help release the body’s own natural painkilling compounds. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health cautions³ not to use acupuncture as an alternative to regular medical treatment.
Chiropractors use a range of techniques for lower back pain, including stretching, corrective exercises, and joint manipulations to adjust the spine. These adjustments are said to improve joint mobility and function. However, certain underlying lower back and hip conditions may not always benefit from chiropractic care, including scoliosis and fractures. Be sure to advise your doctor before seeking chiropractic care if you have chronic back pain.
Lower back or hip pain may be another one of those ordinary aches and pains that many people experience from time to time. However, it can also be a sign of a more serious condition. Some circumstances⁴ that could make your back pain a cause for concern include:
The pain has not gone away within four weeks
A different sensation compared to your regular aches and pains
The pain begins after physical trauma
A previous history of cancer
Redness or swelling on your back
Severe pain levels, particularly at nighttime
Worsening pain when you lie down
Weakness or numbness below your waist
Should you experience any of these symptoms or anything else concerning, speak with your doctor.
Millions of people experience back and hip pain every day. It can be debilitating and affect your ability to move. Fortunately, several treatment options are available that may help you manage the pain.
The pain is often temporary, and you'll be able to get back to a normal life after your recovery period. For chronic conditions, your doctor may be able to help you find a treatment plan that helps you.
Acupuncture: In depth | NIH: National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
Low back pain - acute | MedLine Plus