Lower back pain affects 8 in 10 people and is one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor's office. Back pain can be acute and short term, or chronic and long term. The nature of the pain may range from sharp to dull aches and can include muscle spasms. At its worst, back pain can completely incapacitate patients, making walking too painful and causing people to crawl to the bathroom.

According to the National Institutes of Health, back pain usually appears for the first time between the ages of 30 to 40. A sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of back pain and injury because postural muscles are wakened due to the inactivity. Weight and genetics also play a role in whether or not someone will suffer from back pain. Gender is not well correlated to back pain, but African American women have a higher risk of spondylolisthesis which occurs when the discs in the low back slip out of place.

Causes of back pain are varied, but are roughly categorized as mechanical, injury acquired, or due to illness or disease. The most common source of lower back pain is a muscle injury, which is a mechanical type of back injury.

When back pain first strikes, victims should immediately take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen. Ice packs may be used so long as they provide relief, but, if the ice doesn't seem to do anything, skip it. Touch base with a doctor as soon as possible just to rule out other, more serious causes of back pain and to request a prescription for a higher dose anti-inflammatory. Muscle relaxers should also be discussed with a doctor as they can often provide relief and head off the development of chronic back pain.

While waiting to see the doctor, patients should continue with normal activities that do not cause pain. The goal is avoid triggering pain so if everything hurts, then do nothing. If some things are okay, then do them. The reason for this is because the nerves of the back are wired slightly differently from other nerves in the body and are prone to 'remembering' negative pain patterns. It is easy for an acute injury to turn into a chronic one that can take a year to heal.

After the first few days, begin to use hot packs. Either purchase one or make one by filling a tube sock with rice and heating it in the microwave for 2 to 3 minutes. Heat may intensify pain, but is, ultimately, therapeutic because it increases blood flow, which provides nutrition to traumatized muscles and relaxes tight muscle tissue. Heat is much more therapeutic for low back pain than ice and should be used daily until the back heals.

Once the doctor has verified the cause of back pain is muscular in origin, seek out a massage therapist. Look for someone certified in either neuromuscular therapy or positional release. Expect to require several sessions in order to relieve back pain. A good massage therapist can effectively treat the muscle spasms and subsequent imbalances to provide initial temporary pain relief and long term relief with continued treatment.

If pain persists despite self-care, massage and medication, return to a doctor and request a referral to a physical therapist. During this time, continue to avoid activities that cause pain and pay special attention to the ergonomics of daily activities.

Once lower back pain disappears, refrain from jumping for joy. Back pain is unique because the pain disappears before the injury is completely healed. Slowly work up to regular activities and stop at the first sign of pain as reinjury often undoes all the healing to date and puts patients at risk of developing chronic back pain. With proper treatment and self-care, expectlower back pain to resolve within 6 to 8 weeks.