Lumbago is an old term used to describe pain in the lower back
Lumbago is a common back complaint affecting 80% of the Western world. It is normally associated with overworking the joints in the lower back but it can be caused by rheumatoid arthritis and other infections. In this page, our muscle and joint expert Earle Logan talks about the symptoms and causes of lumbago, and suggests a range of herbal and self-help solutions to ease any stiffness or pain.
An introduction to lumbago
Lumbago is another term for lower back pain, a condition experienced by up to 80% of people in the industrialised Western world at some point in their lives. Read about the causes, symptoms and treatment of lumbago as well as how the term came about to describe low back pain below:
The history of lumbago
The term first appeared in the 1600s, then used mainly by doctors. It became more popular amongst the non-medical population and was widely used even in the 1960s and 70s.
The term lumbago is derived from Latin – with lumbus meaning loin. Hence, lumbago means ‘weakness in the loins’ (which does conjure up a number of visions), or alternatively, ‘weakness in the lower back’ which is a more accurate description.
We commonly consider lower back pain to be a modern-day phenomenon and indeed, it appears that the sedentary lifestyle enjoyed in our civilised world may contribute to the problem. However, the fact that lumbago was described in the 1600s suggests that our ancestors also suffered back problems.
It is likely however, that in those days, it was not a lack of exercise or bad posture that contributed to the problem, but rather, degenerative conditions such as arthritis.
What causes lumbago?
Just as with any problem leading to back pain, the cause of lumbago is not always obvious or easy to identify, even after medical investigations or tests.
The lumbar region, or lower back, has the responsibility of bearing a considerable amount of the body’s weight, and it does so whilst allowing a wide degree of free movement at our waist. These forces can sometimes be too much for the structures, such as the muscles, ligaments and tendons, supporting us. Most often, lumbago arises as a result of a mechanical problem in the joints and muscles of our lower back. This basically means some form of disruption to the way joints in the area work, leading to inflammation and pain. This non-specific term also means that science still does not know precisely why these problems occur.
Sometimes, lumbago can come about as a result of ‘wear and tear’ of the joints of the lower back or some other form of degeneration of joint surfaces as a result of ‘overwork or overuse’. This is sometimes referred to as rheumatism and is more likely to occur in older people.
Other causes of low back pain are less common. These include rheumatoid arthritis, infections, assorted bone disorders and cancer.
Acute and chronic lumbago
Depending on how long symptoms hang around, lumbago can be classified as ‘acute’ or’ chronic’. In general, the following will provide a guideline:
- Acute lumbago – lasting less than six weeks
- Sub-acute lumbago – lasting six weeks to three months
- Chronic lumbago – lasting longer than three months
What are the symptoms of lumbago?
The main symptom of lumbago is pain in the lower back or lumbar region of the spine. This is usually associated with aching, muscle tension and stiffness in the lower back which may be severe enough to interrupt normal everyday activities and movement. Sometimes, this pain may be described as a back strain.
Other symptoms of lumbago include pain radiating down one or both legs. When this happens, it indicates that a nerve is either irritated or ‘trapped’ in the back – a condition known as sciatica.
See your doctor If your back pain is accompanied by the following symptoms:
- Inflammation or swelling of the leg or back
- A feeling of being depressed
- Incontinence of bladder or bowel
- Blood in urine
What can I do to improve my lumbago?
If you suffer from lumbago, you can help yourself by:
- Regular gentle exercise such as walking, swimming or try some back pain exercises
- Making sure that you do not carry excess weight
- Reducing the amount of acid-forming foods in your diet – read our page on the fibromyalgia diet
- Reducing the stress you face or managing it better as stress will only increase tension in your muscles
- Improving your posture whilst sitting or standing
- Being careful when lifting heavy objects.
What treatments are there for lumbago?
Treatment of lumbago usually starts with the need for pain relief. This may be achieved with the use of everyday pain-killers such as aspirin, paracetamol or ibuprofen – either purchased from your pharmacy or prescribed by your doctor. Alternatively, herbal pain medication such as Arnica gel or A.Vogel's Devil’s claw can be used.
From the conventional point of view, low back pain is treated using physiotherapy and exercise. Those using complementary therapies will be aware of osteopathy and chiropractic treatments as well as acupuncture in the treatment of musculoskeletal conditions such as lumbago.
Read more about the treatment of lumbago and back pain relief.
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