What's the cause of sudden stabbing pain in my lower back - Be My Healer
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By Sophie Xie / September 2, 2016

Stabbing lower back pain after trying to lift a big heavy box

lifting big heavy box sharp lower back pain

You felt okay this morning. And now you are laying on the couch, unable to get up or move due to an intense stabbing pain in the lower back that came out of nowhere. 

Just then, you felt the urge to sneeze..."Aa...Choo...ohohoh..aw..awww...aw"that hurts like hell as well.

Now that you feel helpless and trapped, you got time to think about things you did today. Could it be that big heavy box that I lifted out of the garage? Or that fridge that you pulled out from the kitchen? Or that book you fished out from behind the bookcase?

More importantly, you are worried about your body and your ability to recover from whatever this pain may be.

Slipped disc, herniated disc, bulging disc... Whatchamacallit


There is a possibility that you might simply strain your back muscles. In that case, the most typical pain pattern is less of a stabbing pain, but more of a tenderness sore area aggravated by movement.

A more likely condition in above situation is lumbar disc injuries. When people talk about different degrees of disc injuries, terms such as "herniating", "protruding", "bulging", or "slipped" are thrown around casually and used interchangeability. They all mean a break in the integrity of the gel-like disc in your lumbar spine.

Sometimes tears form in the outer layers. Other times the inner content bulges out of the disc into surrounding tissues. The inner fluid content may also leak out of the disc and irritate nerve tissues.

herniated disc and pinched nerve

Acute herniated disc has these common features:

  • Sharp intense pain on one side of lower back
  • Possible popping when injury accured
  • Bending, lifting, pulling or twisting are common movements perform when disc injuries occur
  • Pain and symptoms may become apparent a few hours after the initial injury, and pain worsens over the next 48 hrs
  • Acute symptoms include inability to bend over, lift, getting in or out of bed
  • May experience "sciatica" or nerve compression symptoms, such as vague pain, tingling, numbness or coldness in the leg on the side of the lower back pain
  • Pain is aggravated sustained sitting or standing
  • Lower back muscle stiffness and spasm is common
  • Most comfortable position is laying down on firm and cushioned surface with knees bend or lifted
  • Most intense stiffness is often felt first thing in the morning, making it hard to get off the bed
  • Morning stiffness often improves after moving around 
  • Early and late evening is when the lower back is more sore and tender, making "falling asleep" very challenging
  • This acute injury affects middle-aged people the most. Elderly patients with disc conditions are more likely to have a chronic issue caused by spine degeneration.

Is this BAD?

Yes. In a way. Because you are likely to miss a couple of bar-night, sports games, and a few days off work. For a while, you days are going to be focused on getting comfortable, from sitting to standing, to pacing around, to laying down, to popping ibuprofen. 

You are going to think that this pain has been around for a really long time and is healing really slow when it has only been a few weeks.

Yet, it may not be as bad as you think. Most people experience significant improvement in pain and symptoms within 6 weeks, following proper self-care instruction such as resting, ice/heat, and proper intake of NSAIDS. 

Visiting conservative care specialists such as physical therapists, chiropractors, and massage therapists will minimize your miseries and help you to get back on your feet faster. 

If you have symptoms such as losing control of your bowel movements, "foot drop", or severe pain inconsistent with movement, activities or exertion, you should contact your doctor ASAP.​

Self Care Techniques you should know

The log roll

First thing first, let's get you in and out of your bed properly. When your spine is "ill", simple movements such as sit-up from laying position exerts a significant amount of pressure on your spine. These blunt movements are both painful and risky. Log roll technique is a back friendly technique to bypass abdominal pressure. This is how to get off the bed:

log roll for lower back pain

Image via hep2go.com

Start by sitting on the edge of the bed. Next, lower yourself down lying on your side using your arms. Once fully on your side, roll onto your back. When rolling, be sure your knees stay bent and that you roll your whole body together as one unit. Your shoulders, pelvis, and knees all roll as one.

Ice or heat?

Most people are confused about the ice and heat therapy. Some people will tell you to apply ice and others will tell you to apply heat.

In theory, ice is better for acute and fresh injuries to control inflammation and swelling. Heat is better for muscle fatigue, spasm, and soreness.

However, in real life, everything depends. You will have better pain relief if you go with the therapy that you like. If you enjoy the warmth, you will be more relaxed laying on a heating pad. If you like coolness, you will be more chilled out on ice pack. 

When suffering from acute herniated disc, your best bet is with use both ice and heat for maximum pain relief. Use smaller sized ice pack (wrapped in a dry towel) over the sharp painful spot for 10-15 mins. Use large moist heating pad (avoid max heat on first few days) covering the entire lower back and hip muscles for 15-20 mins.

McKenzie Positional Relief for acute Lower Back Pain

Robin McKenzie is an Australian physiotherapist when became famous for the school of positional treatment for lower back pain that he developed in the 1950s. The McKenzie treatments are still used across the world to treat acute and transient lower back pain today because of its simplicity. 

The rumor says that McKenzie discovered this treatment method by accident after leaving a patient on an extended treatment table and almost forgot about him. After rushing back to this patient, the patient has already been laying there with his back arched backward for almost 20 mins. His patient told him that his back pain has gone away in the past 20 mins and that he kind of feels great. 

Science has not been able to tell us why McKenzie method works. However, it is still worth a try. If you suffer from acute lower back pain AND you feel more comfortable laying on your stomach than your back, you can try the McKenzie technique. You might find fast and easy pain relief.

Step 1: Lay on your stomach. Prop your upper body up on your elbows and stay there for about 5 mins. If you experience symptom improvement, you can continue hanging out in this position, or try step 2.

McKenzie step 1 elbow press up

Image via hep2go.com

Step 2: Lay on your stomach. Press your upper body up on your hands with straight elbows. If you have pain with this position, return to step 1. If no pain, perform 3 sets of 10 press ups with 30 seconds of resting in between.

McKenzie step two prone press up

Image via hep2go.com

If this positional relief helps with your back pain, you can perform them several times throughout the day as needed as pain and stiffness control. 

Under no circumstances should you continue this treatment if your back pain increases with these movements. 

Thank you for reading, and I hope you find this post helpful.

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