What is Acute Low Back Pain?

Acute low back pain is a common clinical sign, as 80% of people suffer from it at least once in their lives. The causes are almost always unknown. Do you want to know more about it?
What is Acute Low Back Pain?
Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador

Written and verified by the biologist Samuel Antonio Sánchez Amador.

Last update: 06 October, 2022

“Lumbago” is a term that refers to localized pain in the lower back at the level of the spine, ligaments, muscles, and nerves in the area. It’s not a disease or diagnosis in itself, but often a symptom of another underlying condition or process.

As indicated by the World Health Organization (WHO), low back pain is the leading cause of disability in the world. In addition, musculoskeletal disorders represent the highest proportion of persistent painful diseases, second only to cancer.

More than 70% of people feel back pain at some time in their lives. For this reason, it’s a fairly common symptom in the medical field. Today, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about acute low back pain since you will undoubtedly have to deal with it at some point in your lifetime.

The possible causes of acute low back pain

Acute low back pain is a sporadic pain that appears in the lumbar region, usually accompanied by a spreading of the discomfort to other nearby areas. It’s often a symptom that resolves naturally; in fact, in only 7% of cases does the discomfort become chronic.

However, it’s estimated that 70% to 80% of the population will suffer from it at some point in their lives. Moreover, 75% of those who have experienced it will experience the symptom again – at least once – within the ten years following its first appearance.

Portals such as the US National Library of Medicine list the possible causes of acute low back pain. These are as follows:

  • Compression fractures of the spine due to osteoporosis, i.e., a gradual decrease in bone density
  • Cancer involving the spine
  • Very tense muscles
  • A herniated disc
  • Sciatica
  • Infections and other diseases

In general, 90% of cases of acute low back pain can be attributed to vertebral and paravertebral causes, making a concrete diagnosis difficult. However, for everyone’s peace of mind, they are almost never accompanied by structural maladjustments. They even resolve on their own with time.

Only 3% to 5% of low back pain is attributable to a serious underlying condition.

acute low back pain
Low back pain is a type of pain that’s located in the lower back. In most cases, it resolves on its own without any complications.

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Common clinical manifestations

To speak of symptoms of acute low back pain is technically incorrect since this condition is a symptom in itself of another underlying process. In any case, there are some clinical manifestations that allow us to recognize the ailment. These are as follows:

  • Mechanical pain in 90% of the cases. That is to say, the discomfort is evident in certain postures and when making an effort, such as lifting.
  • Radiating pain. Discomfort is experienced when coughing, defecating, laughing, or talking loudly.
  • Non-mechanical pain. A very annoying and persistent pain that increases throughout the night. It may even awaken the affected person, preventing rest.
  • Discomfort extending to the leg, hip, or even the sole of the foot.

When to see a doctor

There are some warning signs that occur along with acute low back pain when there are possible complications. If so, it’s necessary to see a doctor urgently. In particular, it’s necessary to see a doctor if your mobility is reduced or if there’s weight loss, a fever, or pain in any other joints.

It’s also recommended to consult a doctor in case of a history of a violent injury, a feeling of illness, an obvious deformity, or a drastic loss of muscle strength. Finally, if the pain is persistent over the weeks and doesn’t improve, a visit to a professional is more than indicated.

Treatments and recommendations for low back pain

Acute low back pain is attacked on several fronts. This includes the use of corticosteroids, analgesics, muscle relaxants, and physiotherapeutic assistance. During treatment, it’s important for the patient to learn how to manage his or her pain at home. Here are some easy-to-follow tips:

  • Suspend normal physical activity for the first few days.
  • Apply heat or ice to the area where the pain is felt.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen, to help relieve the pain.

One of the most widespread preconceptions about acute low back pain is that the patient should remain in bed. Nothing could be further from the truth. Unless the pain is unbearable, it’s recommended that the patient perform aerobic exercises and physical therapy after the first few days.

acute low back pain at work
To avoid complications, it’s recommended to suspend normal activities during the first few days of pain. 

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What to remember about acute low back pain

Acute low back pain is one of the most common ailments. Although it’s mild and resolves on its own most of the time, it’s necessary to take into account some precautions to avoid complications.

On the other hand, it’s important to also bear in mind that this symptom may also be due to other underlying diseases or conditions. Thus, if it’s accompanied by other clinical manifestations, it’s best to consult a physician.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.