Lower Back Pain: Understanding the Causes and Cures
Published | 6 min read
Lower back pain relates directly to bad posture or an inactive lifestyle. A diet that includes certain foods can also trigger an onset of pain.
There are numerous reasons why you may be experiencing lower back pain. Often, a sprain or strain of the back muscles causes this condition. There are two distinct types: acute and chronic pain. Acute pain is short-term — a few days to a few weeks — and tends to go away with self-care. Chronic pain, meanwhile, can continue for 12 weeks or longer. It can even recur after you have received treatment for the initial acute or underlying cause of pain. The pain may feel like a dull, constant ache to some and a sharp, sudden sensation to others.
Here are a few notable causes of lower back pain and several ways to do away with this debilitating condition.
The Common Causes of Lower Back Pain
Most of the time, lower back pain occurs due to a muscle sprain. Disc herniation, strain from muscle pulls, poor lifting technique when working out, and being in a single position for an extended time can aggravate your lower back, putting pressure on the joints and muscles. Obesity, too, can place excessive strain on the spine.
Likewise, conditions like bone hyperplasia (enlargement of an organ or tissue due to an increase in the reproduction rate of its cells) and an intervertebral disc herniation (bulging, protruding, or ruptured disk) can cause pain and nerve compression.
It’s worth noting that several considerations warrant consultations with a healthcare provider. For instance:
- your pain doesn’t go away after a week of at-home care
- a numb, weak, or tingling sensation in your buttocks or legs
- severe pain or muscle spasms that affect your ability to perform daily activities
- weight loss
- bowel disorders
Lower Back Pain According to TCM
In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), excessive consumption of cold, raw, or pungent-tasting foods relates directly to lower back pain. This condition may also be associated with a kidney qi (vital life energy) or kidney essence problem.
According to Eu Yan Sang TCM Physician Sam Ng Teck Xian, many office workers suffer from lower back ache after sitting at their desks for a long time. People who deal with manual handling – transporting or supporting a load by hand or bodily force – like porters are often suffering from or a sore back or waist at work.
“From a TCM perspective, the waist and kidney are indeed related to each other. However, the reasons behind lower back pain are complicated. For instance, one of the possible syndrome diagnoses for lower back ache can be kidney qi or kidney essence deficiency,” explains physician Ng.
TCM practitioners will likely diagnose back pain as a lumbago or lower back pain due to one of the following: damp-cold or damp-heat, kidney weakness or deficiency, or blood stasis. According to TCM, exposure to cold, rain or a damp environment can also result in this condition.
- Damp-cold or damp-heat lumbago: Living in a humid environment, catching a cold after rain exposure, or wearing cold and damp clothing will weaken the body, thus enabling external pathogens to affect the body. This can obstruct the waist meridians, resulting in a poor flow of blood and qi, causing damp-cold or damp-heat low back pain.
- Lumbago due to kidney qi or kidney essence deficiency: Dull ache in the lower back usually happens with a lack of kidney qi or essence. The pain can worsen from exhaustion or excessive sexual intercourse, but improves with rest. It can also be accompanied by symptoms like blurry vision and ringing in the ears. Other symptoms include weakness in the limbs, and frequent and uncontrollable urination.
- Lumbago due to blood stasis: Improper exertion of the waist or a lumbar muscle sprain or strain can cause blood stasis, blocking the meridian. This can impair the circulation of blood and qi, which progresses into lower back pain.
How to Treat Lower Back Pain with Western Medicine
The use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help to alleviate this condition. However, NSAIDs are not suitable for everyone and should not be taken for long unless prescribed by a physician. If you cannot take NSAIDs, non-sedating painkillers may be effective. Incorporating back flexion, knee-to-chest, kneeling lunge, and piriformis muscle stretches, as well as exercises like bridges and pelvic tilts, can soothe a sore back as well.
Doctors may also suggest paracetamol alongside painkillers. Muscle relaxants such as baclofen, carisoprodol, cyclobenzaprine and tizanidine can also help with back pain. However they may cause side effects like dependence, dizziness, falls, fractures, overdose, or car accidents. Therefore, you should avoid cycling, driving, or operating heavy machinery. You can also consider chiropractic care for lower back pain. A 2018 study showed that 6 weeks of treatment helped reduce disability and pain intensity, improving overall mobility.
How to Relieve Lower Back Pain with Traditional Therapy
The clinical prescription of TCM treatments for lower back pain mainly focuses on muscle relaxation, promoting blood circulation, and removing blood stasis and meridian channel obstructions.
1. Acupuncture and cupping
Both therapies can support the treatment of pain-related conditions. Their mechanisms are different, but they employ similar meridians and acupoints to relieve pain by removing blood stasis and regulating qi flow.
If you’re not familiar with these methods, consult with your healthcare provider. Cupping therapy is often considered more cost-efficient and involves a shorter treatment duration.
According to Physician Ng, stimulation of the Chengshan (BL 57), Shenshu (BL 23), and Weizhong (BI 40) acupoints can be good for relaxing tension in the lower back muscles. The Chengshan point can be found in the centre of the back of the calf, between the Kunlun (BL 60) and Weizhong points.
The Shenshu point is located under the spinous process of the second lumbar vertebrae and 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) from the left and right sides of the waist. The Weizhong point is the midpoint of the popliteal stripes and has one on each side.
3. Chinese herbal formulations
According to physician Ng, consuming a kidney tonifying soup such as Du Zhong Bu Yao can potentially improve vitality by nourishing the kidney and strengthening the waist. A waist tonic is also a good remedy for strengthening the body and alleviating lower back pain. The use of an enzyme tonic that’s formulated with cordyceps can also revitalise the body whilst improving bowel movement.
Ultimately, you can prevent lower back pain by maintaining good posture when sitting, standing, sleeping, or lifting heavy objects. “You should get into the habit of becoming physically active and warming up properly before exercise,” reminds Physician Ng.
- SPINE-health. 2017. Stretching for Back Pain Relief. [online] [Accessed 8 November 2021]
- Cleveland Clinic. 2021. Lower Back Pain. [online] [Accessed 8 November 2021]
- Science Direct. 2021. Pain Care Essentials and Innovations – Muscle Relaxants. [online] [Accessed 6 December 2021]
- Harvard Health Publishing. 2019. Should you see a chiropractor for low back pain? [online] [Accessed 8 November 2021]
- US National Library of Medicine. 2017. Cupping therapy versus acupuncture for pain-related conditions: a systematic review of randomised controlled trials and trial sequential analysis. [online] [Accessed 8 November 2021]