Pain in any part of the body could range from bothersome to excruciating and it makes you wonder why anyone has to experience it. However, it is necessary because it is the body’s way of saying ‘Hey, something’s not right ‘.
Lower left back pain means something is wrong in that region. A number of things could cause this pain and this article expounds on the various ailments that could cause lower left back pain and the treatment.
Causes And Treatment Of Lower Left Back Pain
The causes of lower left back pain include problems with the skin, muscles and deeper structures like the organs in that area. Some of these causes and their respective treatment modalities are explained below.
1. Muscle Strain
This is by far the commonest cause of low back pain no matter which side is involved. When our muscles are overused or overstretched in the course of our jobs and daily activities, they begin to scream out in pain.
The nature of this pain is usually a dull ache with a feeling that there’s a ‘knot’ in the area. Most people can tell if it’s a muscle strain because the pain occurs soon after they do something they shouldn’t – like lift a heavy load using their back as the pivot.
Muscle strains are also common in certain jobs that require constant or continuous use of the lower back muscles such as construction workers, long-haul drivers, jobs that require long hours of standing.
An improper posture where you favor one side over the other may also cause left-sided low back pain. Persons with scoliosis, where the curvature of the spine is not well aligned, may cause back pain on the left side.
The general treatment of muscle strain is R.I.C.E. Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation. In left lower back pain, rest and ice are particularly crucial. This helps decrease the inflammation that is going on and therefore, decreases the pain.
A change in posture is important. By consciously guarding against abnormal body posture you save yourself a lot of pain. Applying a back brace may also help especially in cases of scoliosis.
Muscle strains are usually preventable by adjusting our daily activities to protect our back. These adjustments include posture correction and stretching exercises.
Shingles is an infection of the nerves that expresses itself on the skin. It is caused by the Herpes Zoster Virus (HSV) – the same one that causes chickenpox.
Shingles is said to be a disease of the elderly and shows up as really painful chickenpox in just a strip of skin. Before the rash shows up, there may be pain in that area which feels like a tingling or burning sensation.
If the nerve affected is in the left lower back region, then you may experience pain in varying degrees of severity in that section even before the rash appears. Generally, there is also a feeling of unwellness like you are coming down with the flu.
To treat shingles, you have to see your doctor. There is no cure but early intervention with antivirals can decrease your symptoms and your chances of developing complications. Numbing agents, muscle relaxants, and analgesic creams may also be prescribed to decrease the pain you may be experiencing.
If shingles isn’t treated, it could lead to a complication called post-herpetic neuralgia, where the affected area develops permanent extra-sensitivity such that even the lightest touch or a breeze can cause intense, excruciating pain.
3. Kidney Stones
Our kidneys are located in the back of the loins, the lumbar region, one on the left and the other on the right. A left kidney stone can cause pain in the left lower back.
Stones in the kidney are collections of clumped up minerals and salts that deposit in the kidneys while your body is trying to get rid of them by excretion. These stones form over a period of time and when they are large enough they start causing problems.
Don’t get me wrong, the stones don’t need to be the size of a golf ball to cause problems, a small stone of about 3mm can cause so much pain you may pass out.
The pain is due to the body trying to pass the stone out through the urine causing a cramping sensation that tends to start at the lower back and flows in a wave-like manner towards the groin. Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, and passing bloody or cloudy urine.
To confirm a diagnosis of kidney stones, your urine would have to be analyzed to determine what type of stone it is. An X-ray, ultrasound scan or even MRI may be used to determine the location and size of the stone.
Depending on the size of the stone, different treatment methods may be used-
Supportive Measures – this is for smaller stones. The body is given a lot of fluids to help flush out the stone while you are given strong analgesics to ease the pain. You are also given a strain to use for each time you pee to check if you have passed the stone or stones.
Medications – this is also for smaller stones after supportive measures have failed. Drugs used to improve urine flow and pain meds are given to allow passage of the stone.
Procedures– this is for medium sized stones that are too large to be passed without help but are too small to warrant surgery. These procedures include shock wave therapy, laser removal, and endoscopic removal.
Surgery – this is for all stone sizes that have caused complications or in patients with very severe symptoms. Basically, surgery is used when the stone needs to be out immediately, or serious consequences would be met.
4. Kidney Infection
A kidney infection, called pyelonephritis in medical terms, causes lower back pain and if it is the left kidney affected, the pain would be on the left side. Accompanying symptoms include fever, chills, weakness, bloody or cloudy urine.
It occurs more commonly in women as a progression from a bladder infection. A bladder infection is usually mild but when the infection rises to the level of the kidneys, more intense intervention has to be taken.
The treatment of this infection is with antibiotics. However, your doctor has to run some tests to figure out which bacteria is causing the infection and the antibiotic that will most effectively get rid of it.
The tests that may be run are blood tests, urine analysis and an ultrasound of the kidneys. Most kidney infections clear up after a course of treatment so once you complete your drugs, you should be as good as new.
5. Slipped Disk
In the spinal column, there are discs between each vertebral bone to allow for movement of one bone over the other. When one of these disks ‘slip’ due to an injury or other medical condition, it pushes on the nerves close to it. This is called disk herniation.
If the nerve close to it is one that supplies the left lower back area, it will cause pain. It may also cause numbness and weakness of the left leg, abnormal sensations on the left side, and a pain that spreads from the lower left back to the left leg.
From a clinical interview and an examination, your doctor would suspect a slipped disk especially if you are overweight and work in a job that requires lifting. The diagnosis is usually confirmed by an MRI scan.
Treatment involves rest with a gradual increase in activities over several weeks. Research has shown that people do better when they return to their normal daily tasks early-on but avoid activities involving the back such as lifting.
Pain medications, especially NSAIDs like Ibuprofen and Diclofenac, are employed to minimize the pain. Heat or ice therapy, exercises, physiotherapy, and massage therapy may also be used under the supervision of medical personnel.
Surgery is the last resort if all else fails, the pain is unbearable, or the risk of complications is very high.
6. Gynecological Conditions
Certain conditions that only occur in the female body may cause left sided lower back pain. These cause pain because they are located in the lower back area of the female body. They include conditions like fibroids and endometriosis.
A fibroid is a non-cancerous growth of the muscular layer of the uterus. If it grows too large or it twists on the stalk from which it grows, it could cause pain. When a fibroid causes pain or is too large, the treatment is usually surgical removal.
Endometriosis is a medical condition where the innermost layer of the uterus, called the endometrium, is found in other parts of the body. During menstruation, the endometrial tissue bleeds regardless of what part of the body it is in.
One of the most common sites to find the endometrial tissue is the ovaries. If the left ovary is infiltrated with endometrial tissue, during menstruation, when the endometrial tissue bleeds, there would be pain in the lower left abdomen or back – depending on the positioning of the ovary.
The treatment of endometriosis is complicated and requires specialist care by a gynecologist using hormonal means to treat the condition. It requires extensive medical tests to confirm the diagnosis, continuous use of hormonal medications and regular follow-up with your gynecologist.
Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas due to a myriad of causes including an infection, gall stones, excessive alcohol use, trauma, and certain medications. The pancreas is an important digestive system organ positioned close to the back, so an inflammation could cause pain that spreads to the lower back.
Pancreatitis is a pretty serious condition with symptoms that include upper abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and if not promptly treated can rapidly affect other organs including the heart and lungs.
The treatment requires hospital admission, sometimes in the Intensive Care Unit (I.C.U.), where the bowel is made to rest by avoiding foods, lots fluid and nutrition via the venous route (I.V.), antibiotics, and strong pain medications are also given.
Recovery is progressive, and the aim of treatment is to prevent complications such as a super-imposed infection, bleeding or formation of a cyst or abscess.
As we all know pregnancy is not a disease… even though for some, it feels that way. One thing about pregnancy is that there can be pain ANYWHERE including the left lower back. This may be due to abnormal posture due to the weight of the growing baby, a co-existing fibroid or any other medical condition mentioned above.
In pregnancy the enlarged womb moves things out of place, so nothing can be ruled out when there is left sided back pain until a thorough investigation has been done. For example, appendicitis would be considered even though it normally causes pain in the right lower abdomen.
It also needs to be mentioned that a pregnant woman with low back pain would have to be evaluated for signs of labor because that is one of the commonest presentations.
Managing pain this type of pain in pregnancy is a bit tricky because there are a lot of things that can cause it. The most important thing to do is to see your doctor who will evaluate you clinically and determine the cause of your pain.
Regular exercise (with your doctor’s permission) and posture correction will help keep the pain away, using pillows to prop yourself up till you are comfortable, and pregnancy safe pain killers will help alleviate the pain.
If the pain is due to labor, it goes without saying that delivery of the baby would help solve that one!
Left low back pain has a number of causes and with each cause, there are multiple treatment modalities. The important things to note are the accompanying symptoms and when to see a doctor.
Please see your doctor if there is a fever, severe pain, difficulty moving your legs, abnormal sensations, vomiting or if you are just plain unsure of what is going on. Most likely, the problem is due to bad posture and daily habits.
If it is beyond posture and bad habits, then your doctor would work to try to get you back to your usual state of health.
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