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Lumbago: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Product Recommendations, and Exercises

Have you ever found yourself suddenly unable to move and have lower back pain?

You might have lumbago.

When people first hear the term “lumbago”, their first question is often:

“What is lumbago?” 

The term lumbago is not often used, but it is essentially a general term often used to describe pain in the lower back. It is not a specific disease diagnosis;

rather, it’s a symptom of several different types of medical problems.

Most of the time, lumbago is due to poor posture, muscle strains, arthritis, or spinal stenosis.

Infection, fractures, cancer, and vascular disease are less common causes.

If you’re interested in learning more about lumbago, you’re in the right place!

Here, we will look at common causes of lumbago, its symptoms, and how it is treated.

We also offer product recommendations that may help alleviate the pain you’re feeling.

What is Lumbago? 

The term “lumbago” doesn’t give precise information as to the cause of the low back pain, and it’s not an official medical diagnosis;

rather, lumbago is a general term often used to describe pain in the lower back.

Typically, lumbago is described as mild to severe pain in the lower back.

Most people feel the pain most prominently near their spine, but it tends to radiate outward and can even feel like cramps in the groin, buttocks, and thighs.

In other cases, the cramps travel upward to the neck and shoulders, which causes a stiffening sensation.

This happens because the muscles in the lower back are spasming, causing them to contract beyond your control, which then puts pressure on the body and prevents you from moving freely. 

Lumbago can strike sporadically, and you may experience bouts of pain-free living interrupted by a sudden onset of pain which can take a few days or weeks to heal. 

Causes of Lumbago

Sometimes, the cause of lumbago is hard to pinpoint, even after comprehensive medical exams have been done.

Lumbago is often caused by several factors, but some of the most common causes are overuse and sudden lifting of a heavy load.

Lumbago can also be the result of excessive bending or other repetitive motions involving the lower back.

Osteoarthritis and spinal arthritis can be factors, as well.

Common causes of lumbago may include:

  • Muscle Strain. Strained muscles usually cause back pain. Strain typically occurs with the incorrect lifting of heavy objects and sudden awkward movements. Muscle strain can also be caused by overactivity. An example is the sore feeling and stiffness that occurs after a few hours of yard work or playing a sport.
  • Arthritis. Spinal osteoarthritis is also a potential cause of lumbago. It’s caused by damage and deterioration in the cartilage of joints in your lower back. Over time, this condition can lead to the narrowing of the spinal column, known as spinal stenosis.
  • Structural Problems. Vertebrae are the interlocking bones that are stacked on top of one another that make up the spine. Discs are areas of tissue that cushion the spaces between each vertebra. Disc injuries are fairly common: sometimes these discs can herniate, bulge, or rupture. Nerves can get compressed when this happens. 

Herniated discs can be very painful.

A bulging disc pressing on the nerve that travels from your back and down your leg can cause sciatica or irritation of the sciatic nerve.

Sciatica can be experienced in your leg as numbness, tingling, or pain.

  • Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can lead to small fractures in your vertebrae. These fractures can cause serious pain and are referred to as compression fractures.
  • Other Causes. There are many other potential causes of lumbago, but most are rare. Be sure to see a doctor if you experience regular back pain that does not go away. After ruling out the more common causes of lumbago, your doctor will perform tests to check if you have a rarer cause which may include:
  • degenerative spondylolisthesis
  • fungal or bacterial infection of the spine (i.e. Staphylococcus or E. coli)
  • cancer or noncancerous (benign) tumor in the spine
  • kidney stones or kidney infection
  • loss of nerve function at the lower spinal cord, known as cauda equina syndrome (this is a medical emergency)

Symptoms of Lumbago

Lumbago can have many symptoms, including:

  • lower back stiffness
  • a dull, aching sensation in the lower back
  • muscle tension and achiness
  • an inability to stand up straight without pain
  • a shooting or stabbing pain that can radiate into the buttock, the groin, or to the back of the thigh
  • numbness in the buttocks, back, or leg, along with a tingling feeling that radiates down the leg to the foot (this is known as sciatica)
  • a decreased range of motion 
  • a reduced ability to flex the back
  • lower back pain when you sneeze or cough
  • swelling or inflammation of the back or leg

If lumbago is caused by muscle strain or overuse, the symptoms you feel can be short-lived but it may still last for a few days or weeks.

Back pain is considered chronic when symptoms have been present for more than 3 months.

See your doctor if back pain doesn’t improve within 2 weeks of developing.

Often, back pain can be a symptom of a serious medical problem.

Symptoms that can indicate a more serious medical problem include:

  • fever
  • numbness, tingling, or weakness in one or both legs
  • unexplained weight loss
  • constant, intense pain that gets worse at night
  • back pain after trauma (injury), such as a fall or a motor vehicle accident

Risk Factors for Lumbago

You may have an increased risk for lower back pain if you:

  • work in a sedentary (inactive) environment where you have to sit down most of the day
  • don’t exercise
  • engage in high-impact activity without stretching or warming up first
  • are older
  • have obesity
  • are a smoker
  • have been diagnosed with a specific condition like arthritis

Lumbago Diagnosis

Getting an accurate diagnosis of the cause of lumbago is often more challenging than most people expect. 

Often, it will involve a combination of thorough patient history and physical exam, as well as diagnostic tests.

The patient history and physical exam are used to help determine if a patient’s lower back pain is more likely to be caused by soft tissue (muscle, ligament, or tendon) problem that will likely heal itself or a more serious underlying medical condition, such as fracture, infection or tumor.

During the physical exam, your doctor may test your:

  • ability to detect sensations in your legs
  • ability to stand and walk
  • reflexes
  • spine’s range of motion
  • leg strength

If a serious condition is suspected, your doctor might order additional tests, such as:

  • blood and urine tests to check for underlying conditions
  • bone scan to look for abnormalities in the bone tissue
  • X-rays of the spine to show the alignment of your bones and check for any breaks
  • MRI or CT scan to assess your muscles, ligaments, discs, nerves, and blood vessels
  • electromyography (EMG) to test nerve signals

Treatment Options for Lumbago

There are many different treatment options for lumbago and treatment will vary based on the cause of your low back pain and the severity of the condition.

Treatment may involve non-surgical and surgical options. 

Non-surgical treatment options for lumbago may include:

  • Rest. Resting and giving your back the time to rest up and recover from the strain it has been put under is a big help. It is necessary to help let the injured and damaged muscles have the time to repair.
  • Heat or Ice. Ice can numb some of the pain, and heat can allow the muscles to relax so that they aren’t so tight (which can cause additional pain).
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers. Over-the-counter pain medication are another treatment option that someone with lumbago may look into using. They can provide some temporary relief. 
  • Use of Products and Special Medical Equipment. Some products are designed to provide support for your lower back and help provide relief from lumbago pain. Some products we recommend include:

A TENS unit muscle stimulator and electric massager that provides pain relief acts as a muscle massager or shoulder massager provides carpal tunnel relief and acts as a muscle relaxer (great for muscle recovery).

TENS machine comes with multiple TENS therapy modes that will provide instant muscle pain relief.

Made with pure heat-responsive memory foam, this lumbar pillow adjusts to the contours of your back, providing the lumbar support your current chair lacks.

This chair back support relieves pressure and pain in the upper, middle, and lower back so you can better focus on the task at hand. 

Sparthos Back Brace gives you immediate and lasting relief from a herniated disc, sciatica, back pain, sore muscles, and other back conditions.

Wear it when you walk, bend or stretch.

Enjoy the freedom of movement!

Sparthos medical brace incorporates an adjustable lumbar pad to provide extra compression for your lower back.

Orthopedic leg pillow to help reduce back, hip, leg, knee, and sciatica nerve discomfort.

The Contour Legacy Pillow is the best leg pillow cushion for those looking for relief as the cushion comfortably supports your legs and knees to provide proper sleeping alignment and positioning to eliminate those painful pressure points.

Aside from these treatments, your health provider may also refer you to a physical therapist, a spine specialist, or a pain management specialist.

You may also be referred to a chiropractor.

These specialists can provide you with personalized treatment plans based on your symptoms, the causes of your lumbago, your lifestyle, and your needs. 

Surgery for lumbago.

If your lumbago is accompanied by pain, electrical sensations such as pins and needles, burning, shock, weakness, or numbness that goes down one leg, your healthcare provider may refer you to a spine surgeon.

However, this does NOT always mean that you need to get surgery.

Often, spine surgeons recommend other less invasive options, such as pain injections or injections of anti-inflammatory medication.

In severe cases, surgery may be recommended.

Surgery may be considered for severe lumbago that does not get better after a 6 to 12-week course of nonsurgical treatments.

It is almost always the patient’s decision to have back surgery, and only in rare situations is immediate surgery necessary for low back pain.

Exercises to Help Lumbago

Gentle stretches and easy exercises can help ease your lower back pain and prevent future problems.

Here are some exercises you can try:

  • Bridges
  1. Lie on the ground with your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart.
  2. With your hands by your sides, press your feet onto the floor as you slowly lift your buttocks off the ground until your body is in one straight line. Keep your shoulders on the floor.
  3. Lower down. Rest for 1 minute.
  4. Repeat 15 times.
  5. Perform 3 sets.
  6. Lie on your stomach. Stretch your arms above your head and lengthen your legs straight behind you.
  7. Slowly lift your hands and feet off the ground. Start about 6 inches off the ground and go higher as you feel comfortable.
  8. Push through your belly button to lift your legs and arms off the ground. Stop when you feel your lower back contract. To prevent neck strain, keep your head down, looking at the ground.
  9. Hold your stretched posture for 2 to 3 seconds.
  10. Return to neutral and relax your muscles.
  11. Repeat this stretch 10 to 12 times.
  • Partial Crunches
  1. Lie back, and keep your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent.
  2. With your hands behind your head or with arms crossed around your chest, raise your shoulders from the floor. Make sure to keep your stomach muscles tight.
  3. Breathe out while raising your shoulders. Avoid leading with your elbows (or yanking your neck off the floor with your arms).
  4. Hold for one second. Next, lower yourself back down to the floor in a controlled manner.
  5. Repeat with between eight and 12 repetitions. Remember to follow proper form, which prevents excessive spine stress. Keep your feet, tailbone, and lower back against the floor throughout the exercise.
  • Hamstring Stretches
  1. Lie on your back with one knee bent.
  2. Thread a towel beneath the ball of the foot on the unbent leg.
  3. Pull back on the towel slowly, straightening your knee. You ought to feel a gentle stretch along the back of your leg.
  4. Hold the stretch for at least 15-30 seconds.
  5. For each leg, repeat 5 times.
  • Wall Sits
  1. Stand with your back facing the wall at a distance of about 10 to 12 inches.
  2. Carefully lean into the wall until your spine is flat against it.
  3. Slide down the wall slowly until your knees are bent slightly. Continue to press your low back into the wall.
  4. Hold this position for a count of 10, then carefully slide it back up the wall. Repeat 8 to 12 times.
  • Press-up Back Extensions
  1. Lie on your stomach. Position your hands directly underneath your shoulders.
  2. Push down on your hands. You should feel your shoulders begin to lift away from the floor.
  3. If you can do so comfortably, set your elbows on the floor directly beneath your shoulders. Then spend several seconds holding this position.
  • Knee to Chest
  1. Lie on your back. Put your feet flat on the floor and bend your knees.
  2. Draw your right knee up to your chest. Keep the left foot flat against the floor.
  3. Hold for 15-30 seconds. Meanwhile, be sure to keep your lower back flat on the floor.
  4. Next, lower your right knee. Repeat the routine with the left leg.
  5. For each leg, perform knee-to-chest two to four times.
  • Pelvic Tilts
  1. Lie with your back and upper body on the floor with your knees bent. Keep your feet flat on the floor.
  2. Pull in your stomach. Imagine your belly button is being pulled toward your backbone—this helps keep your stomach tight. Doing this, you will notice your hips rocking back as your back and spine press into the floor.
  3. Hold this movement for 10 seconds, allowing your breath to smoothly enter and exit your chest.
  4. Repeat your pelvic tilts eight to 12 times.

The Bottom Line

Back pain is a common ailment, and the older you get, the more likely you are to experience it.

With rest, over-the-counter medications, and some gentle exercises, most episodes of back pain will resolve on their own.

Occasionally, you may need help from your doctor in the form of prescription medication or injections.

Surgery may be an option in very rare cases.

The good news for people who’ve experienced lumbago and want to avoid another bout with it is that you can take steps to prevent it.

Daily exercise, gentle stretches, yoga, and strength training can help make your back and core muscles stronger and more resilient, which can ultimately help reduce your risk of getting lumbago in the long run. 

Disclaimer: The information on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. All information contained on this website is for general information purposes only.

Back Pain Hero is supported by readers like you. We may earn a small commission when you choose our back pain relief recommendations. Learn More

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