Low back pain may be acute (less than 6 to 12 weeks’ duration) or chronic (greater than 12 weeks’ duration). Most commonly, acute pain results from sprain or strain. Stretching a back muscle while contracting it (e.g. lifting) may cause a small or large tear of the back’s soft tissues (muscle, tendon or ligament). A pop/snap sound sometimes occurs, followed by sharp pain, and possible bruising later on. Sprains are usually diagnosed by examination, without XRays or other studies. These injuries normally heal within 6 to 12 weeks.
However, for unclear reasons it has been estimated that about one quarter of backinjured people have a slower rate of tissue repair. Fifteen to 20 percent may develop prolonged pain, and approximately 2 to 8 percent may have chronic pain. Recent studies suggest that one-third to one-fourth of low back pain patients seeing a primary care provider may still have problems after one year[1, 5] Experts have estimated that approximately 80 percent of Americans will experience low back pain during their lifetimes.[6, 7, 8]. If the pain persists for more than 12 weeks, its considered chronic (cLBP).
Sometimes chronic low back pain occurs without acute injury. Repeated activity, like lifting, twisting or vibrating, may slowly damage any of the back’s tissues. Chronic low back pain tends feel more deep, aching or tight, and rarely requires imaging studies.
Whether the LBP is acute or chronic, associated leg pain resulting from irritation of the nerves exiting the lower spine is called sciatica.
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