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Mechanical Back Pain

Mechanical low back pain is the #1 reason for missed days of work.

Mechanical low back pain is the #1 reason for missed days of work.

Mechanical low back pain, also referred to as non-specific back pain, is said to be the #2 reason why people visit their doctor and the #1 reason for missed days at work. In fact, up to 90% of all people experience back pain sometime during their lifetime, with the majority of the incidences mechanical in nature. This is not surprising since the low back supports the majority of the body’s weight.

What is Mechanical or Non-Specific Back Pain?

When back pain is described as “mechanical,” it means that the source of the pain is in the vertebrae, soft tissues, or spinal joints. However the term “non-specific” is also applied, referring to the fact that in the majority of cases no structural abnormalities of the back or anatomic causes for the pain are found. Typically, mechanical low back pain (LBP) is caused by injury or by abnormal strain, stress, or overuse of the muscles of the vertebral column. As a result, the surrounding joints and ligaments become inflamed and irritated, leading to pain in the lower back which may radiate to the buttocks, thighs, and knees.

Types of Mechanical Back Pain

Depending on its duration, mechanical low back pain is categorized as follows:

  • In acute mechanical back pain, pain is present for less than four to six weeks and most people recover quickly with either no or simple treatment.
  • In sub-acute mechanical back pain, pain persists for more than four to six weeks and further diagnostic testing may be warranted.
  • In chronic mechanical back pain, pain persists for more than three months and is often progressive

Acute Mechanical Back Pain Symptoms

Acute low back pain may result from everyday housework, garden work, a sports injury, car accident, or any sudden jolt or excess stress on the spinal bones/tissues.

Symptoms of acute mechanical back pain include:

  • Muscle ache
  • Stabbing or shooting pain
  • Spasms
  • Pain which radiates to the buttocks and thighs
  • Limited range of motion/flexibility
  • Inability to stand straight
  • Pain radiating from an injury elsewhere in the body

Mechanical Back Pain Treatment

Over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications are sufficient for most people suffering from mechanical back pain while others benefit from a physical therapy program for more persistent pain.

Other treatments for mechanical back pain include:

  • Short-term bed rest (24-48 hours) may be recommended for severe back pain or muscle spasms
  • Ice/Heat: Applied alternatively two to three times a day, cold packs help decrease muscle inflammation while applying heat helps relax the muscles
  • Physical Activity: In almost all cases of mild to moderate back pain, patients are encouraged to maintain or resume a near-normal schedule as soon as possible.  Depending on the nature of one’s job/work, some type of duty modification may be in order

Mechanical Low Back Pain Recovery

The prospect for a full recovery from acute mechanical low back pain is excellent! Most people are symptom-free within a couple of weeks, while the rest recover within three months.

How to Prevent Mechanical Back Pain

Since low back pain is often the result of improper body mechanics or non-traumatic injuries, one can prevent back pain by:

  • Maintaining correct posture
  • Investing in ergonomic furniture/tools/workstations
  • Proper lifting of heavy objects
  • Regular practice of back-friendly stretches and exercises