pulse gif OrthoEdge Orthopedic Specialists Jacksonville Florida ortho edge flman seeking relief from lumbar strain

Lumbar Strain: Acute Versus Chronic Lower Back Pain

Lumbar Strain: Acute Versus Chronic Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain, also known as lumbar pain or lumbar strain, is a common problem in the United States, with more than 80% of Americans suffering from some form of lower back pain at one point or another.

One symptom of lower back pain is muscle spasms. Most muscle spasms are acute and will go away on their own within six weeks. However, lower back pain can be chronic. Lumbar spinal stenosis, which we’ll discuss later, is one of the conditions that result in chronic lower back pain.

The good news is you don’t necessarily need invasive procedures to fix your lower back pain issues! There are many non-surgical treatments available that provide pain relief without prolonged recovery periods or dangerous side effects.

We’ve put together a mini back pain guide. Let’s look at lower back pain, what causes it, and how you and your doctor can treat it.

What is Lumbar Strain?

image of lower spine

Before we go too much further into identifying different types of lower back pain, we need to have a good grasp of lumbar strain. Lumbar strain is muscle damage or injury to the lower back. Lumbar strain can be acute (sudden) or chronic (lingering), like most muscle injuries. Muscle spasms are one of the many symptoms of a lumbar strain.

Isn’t a lumbar strain the same thing as a muscle spasm?

No. A lumbar strain is an injury to the tendons or muscles of the lower back. A muscle spasm is a muscle cramp — a sudden and involuntary muscle contraction. Some people call a muscle spasm a twitch or a charley horse.

Lumbar strain has many different signs and symptoms. We’ll discuss those next.

Lumbar Strain Symptoms

If you’re experiencing lumbar strain, your body has several ways of letting you know. Symptoms include:

  • Muscle spasms
  • Muscle weakness or pain in the lower back that continues even when you’re not exercising or moving around.
  • Muscle stiffness or tenderness, especially after activity.
  • The strength of your muscles may also be affected. You might have trouble doing simple tasks like bending over or climbing stairs.

Now that we’ve identified some of the symptoms of lower back pain caused by lumbar strain, let’s talk more about two types of pain: acute and chronic.

Isn’t All Lower Back Pain the Same?

While you might think pain is pain, there is a difference between acute and chronic lower back pain.

Acute lower back pain occurs suddenly and lasts a few days to a few weeks. Most low back pain is acute and tends to resolve on its own. It usually comes on after some physical activity, like gardening or yard work.

Chronic lower back pain goes beyond just a few weeks. It persists even after you receive treatment for the underlying cause. Roughly 20 percent of people who have acute lower back pain end up developing chronic lower back pain.

Chronic lower back pain is usually worse than acute muscle strain because it never goes away completely.

Causes of Chronic Lower Back Pain

A common misconception about chronic lower back pain is that a single injury or event is to blame. The truth is that instead of a single cause, there are usually multiple underlying risk factors.

Here are a few of the most common causes of chronic lower back pain:

  • Muscle atrophy
  • Poor posture
  • Improper body mechanics
  • Genetics
  • Aging
  • Trauma caused by injuries
  • Overuse
  • Repetitive motion

Aging often means developing arthritis, leading to some of the other causes of chronic lower back pain. One thing is for sure. Chronic pain isn’t sudden. It can creep up on you for years without you even realizing it’s happening.

There are two other contributors to chronic lower back pain: lumbar spinal stenosis and degenerative disc disease.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis and Degenerative Disc Disease

If you’ve been living with chronic lower back pain, your doctor may identify lumbar spinal stenosis or degenerative disc disease as the cause.

Lumbar Spinal Stenosis 

Your lower back contains your spinal cord and nerves. If there’s a narrowing of the spaces in your lower back, your doctor will likely diagnose a condition called lumbar spinal stenosis. Over time, this can cause pain, muscle spasms, weakness, or numbness when moving from standing to sitting or vice versa.

Some people don’t experience symptoms at all.

Degenerative Disc Disease 

As you age — usually after around 40 years — the discs between your vertebrae begin to wear down. The nucleus of each disc is about 80% water; with age, the discs dry out and shrink, which reduces their flexibility and ability to cushion the spine. This causes pain and muscle spasms that can be disabling.

If you’re experiencing chronic lower back pain, it’s time to take action. The longer this condition goes untreated, the more damage to nerves, organs, and quality of life.

Treatment for Lower Back Pain

If you suffer from lower back pain, there’s no reason to suffer in silence. You have options.

First, you need to identify the cause of your pain. Are you a weekend warrior who overuses muscles at the gym? Or, do you have an underlying condition like the ones mentioned earlier?

The treatments for acute and chronic lower back pain differ, and you want to make sure you’re targeting the pain in the most effective way possible.

If your doctor determines that muscle strain is the reason for lower back pain, you can try RICE, an acronym for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. You can also take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen.

However, if muscle spasms are causing chronic lower back pain, anti inflammatories might not be enough of a treatment plan for long-term relief.

What About Treatment for Chronic Lower Back Pain?

If your lower back pain is caused by one of the common underlying conditions such as lumbar spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, or trauma, lifestyle changes and careful management of your pain can help improve your quality of life.

These conditions can be treated with physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medications, and muscle relaxants. Many people find relief from chronic lower back pain by taking up yoga or Pilates, while others have found holistic therapies like acupuncture helpful in relieving the pain associated with muscle spasms.

While some people spend a lot of time and money on home remedies, there’s a better cure. The key to finding the proper treatment is to consult with a healthcare provider specializing in diagnosing and treating spinal conditions.

Ready to Beat the Pain of Muscle Spasms?

We’ve talked about lumbar strain, acute and chronic lower back pain, a few probable causes of back pain, and some of the potential treatments. If you’re tired of dealing with the pain caused by muscle spasms or other conditions that cause lower back pain, it’s time to reach out for help.