One of the key clues to diagnosing the cause of back pain lies in the description of the pain you feel; your chances of an accurate diagnosis increase with the details you are able to give. Location, duration, frequency and type of sensation are all crucial components of a pain description. Documenting your pain in a journal may help you express your pain to your doctor.
There are many types of pain sensations; aches, sharp pains and burning are among the most common. Here we will discuss the most common conditions indicated by burning lower back pain.
The most common cause of burning back pain is muscle tightness and fatigue. Whether you are a bodybuilder or an office worker, you likely have overexerted muscles. This is because improper posture and poor ergonomics, two very common phenomena, tax lower back muscles throughout the day. The scientific community is at odds concerning whether lactic acid or some other substance causes overworked muscles to burn. To us, all that matters is that the work a muscle performs produces metabolic by-products, and that one or more of those products can build up in the muscle if not flushed out by blood flow. In order to flush out waste, a muscle requires both contraction and relaxation to pump blood in and out. A tight muscle is stuck in contraction. When waste builds up and oxygen is depleted, pain is felt.
Tight muscles need to loosen in order to release buildup and take in fresh blood, full of nutrients and oxygen that facilitate healing and energy. Muscles that are moderately tight from a strenuous activity or short-term cause can be stretched. Heat is also great for tight, tired muscles since it encourages blood flow. A heating pad or hot bath is ideal. For muscles that are chronically tight due to prolonged improper posture and biomechanics, self-myofascial release with a foam roller may be necessary. You may also wish to consult a physical therapist for targeted exercise, stretching and postural advice.
Another potential cause of burning in the lower back is nerve impingement. Sciatica is the most common type of nerve impingement in this area. A number of things can irritate a nerve exiting the spinal column: herniated or bulging disc, misplaced vertebra or inflamed muscle are among the causes. Nerves send motor and sensory information back and forth between a part of the body and the brain. Interference with this signaling can lead to burning, tingling, weakness and pain along the nerve pathway.
Burning pain attributed to a nerve can be distinguished from muscle burning by the fact that the pain is along the nerve path rather than localized. Also, nerve impingement cannot be treated with simple rest and heat (heat may actually make it worse). The treatment will depend on what is irritating the nerve. Massage, chiropractic care and exercise therapy are all treatment plans that people may pursue to relieve pain from nerve impingement.
Burning muscles can on rare occasion indicate a more serious condition. If accompanied by vomiting and painful urination, a kidney infection may be present. If the burning is followed by a loss of sensation in part of the body, nerve damage may be occurring. Diabetes and multiple sclerosis also have been linked to burning sensations. If your pain is not caused by either muscular fatigue or nerve impingement, it is important to be tested for these serious conditions.
For most people, remaining more mobile throughout the day and improving posture will be sufficient to relieve muscle burning. Conditioning the core muscles, especially the deep abdominal muscles, will lend support to your lower back and help prevent overexertion. It is important to be aware that non-muscular burning indicates a potential nerve problem that requires medical attention. Pay attention to your pain, and seek help if you are unsure of its cause.