If you’ve ever experienced lower back pain accompanied by redness and swelling in your legs and feet, you’re not alone. Affecting over 80% of adults at some point in their lives, back pain is one of the most widespread musculoskeletal disorders, a common reason for missed work days, and the cause of disability,
Depending on what’s causing lower back pain, it may be accompanied by swelling in the lumbar spine, legs, and feet. Edema – or the swelling of tissues – may simply be a consequence of inflammation and build-up of fluids but, in some cases, it can be a sign of a more severe underlying condition requiring medical care.
Fortunately, living in fear of experiencing disability, surgical operations, and lifelong pain is no longer the only prospect for people with chronic low back pain and swelling.
In this guide, we’ll explore how the whole-person approach pioneered by Neuragenex – Neurofunctional Pain Management – can help you regain your back function, live pain-free, and magnify your quality of life without surgery or medications.
How Does Swelling In The Lower Back Happen?
Low back pain is one of the most common and impactful musculoskeletal disorders. According to a study published by The Lancet Rheumatology in June 2023, low back pain affects nearly 620 million people globally and represents the leading cause of years lived with disability worldwide. What’s more, the number of low back pain cases is expected to rise to over 800 million by 2050 due to the growth and aging of the global population.
In the US, a National Survey shows that three-quarters of Americans with chronic low back pain experience difficulties in several aspects of their lives, including self-care, mobility, work, and social activities.
While low back pain is certainly life-limiting, not all cases of lumbar back pain have the same causes, nature, or symptoms. Generally, low back pain is caused by a strain or sprain, poor posture, intervertebral disc problems, or degenerative conditions like osteoporosis. Some of the symptoms of back pain caused by these conditions include:
- Sudden or gradually increasing lumbar spine pain
- Painful sensations that are described as sharp, dull, and achy
- Pain that radiates from the spine down to the bottom and the legs
- “Popping” noises at the time of injury
- Pain that intensifies when you lie down or when performing motions like bending over
- Stiffness and reduced mobility (i.e.: difficulty straightening your back, getting up from a seated position, or twisting your back)
- Crooked or forward posture
- Painful muscle spasms (usually as a symptom of sprain and strains)
Sometimes, low back pain is accompanied by swelling in the lower back.
Lower back swelling – also known as edema – is a severe condition that arises from the build-up of fluids caused by the body’s inflammatory response or circulatory issues. Although edema is more common in the legs and feet, it is also possible for you to experience swelling in the lower back. The National Institutes of Health reports that around 20% of adults have some form of edema in their lifetime.
In some cases, swelling in the low back is nothing more than a temporary symptom that eases down with time. For example, if your back pain is due to trauma or injury, your body will trigger the inflammatory response to heal damaged tissue, which will involve the increased circulation and build-up of fluids in the injured area. As a consequence, you’ll experience swelling, which can be treated with rest and ice compresses.
You may also experience edema due to prolonged immobilization or a sedentary lifestyle, because poor circulation will cause the blood to pool in a certain area of the body, such as the back, legs, and feet. Besides swelling, poor circulation can cause redness, numbness, tingling, and, in severe cases, blood clots.
However, sometimes, noticeable swelling in the lower back can be a symptom of a far more severe – and, sometimes, life-threatening – condition. Spinal infections caused by bacteria in the bloodstream (vertebral osteomyelitis) and inflammatory conditions like sacroiliitis (the inflammation of the joint located at the base of the spine) can lead to swelling and require immediate medical attention.
In the sections below, we’ll look at the most common pain conditions that besides back pain can also lead to lower back swelling, stiffness, redness, and loss of mobility.
Conditions Associated With Redness Or Swelling In The Lower Back
Lower back pain combined with redness and swelling can occur due to strains or sprains, forceful movements, or lifting something too heavy. However, sometimes, this condition stems from chronic pain conditions that can impact your life for months or years at a time.
Learning about the causes and prognosis of the different causes of low back pain and swelling can help you prevent complications and find the right treatment for your needs. Let’s start here.
With a diameter of 2 cm, the sciatic nerve is the largest nerve in the body. Its function is to provide motor and sensation functions to the upper leg, lower leg, and foot components. This nerve starts from the lower back and runs down the back of the leg.
Sciatica refers to any condition or disorder that compresses this nerve and impacts its ability to transmit signals from and to the brain. These disorders include a herniated disc, muscle spasms in the back, misalignments of the spine, and tumors pressing on the nerve.
As a result, people with sciatica experience a range of symptoms including numbness, tingling sensations, leg numbness and weakness, temporary loss of movement, and sharp and stabbing pain that radiates down the hip and leg. Sciatica commonly affects just one side of the body, and it is considered to be a chronic condition experienced by 10-40% of adults at some point in their lifetime.
In some cases, sciatica may also cause swelling in the lower back. This occurs when the sciatic nerve is compressed by a herniated disc, spinal stenosis (the narrowing of the spaces in the spine), or abnormal bony growths (bone spurs). Besides pressing on the sciatic nerve, these structural anomalies irritate surrounding structures, which causes inflammation, fluid build-up, and swelling.
- Tip: Spine anomalies like bone spurs, tumors, fractures, and herniated discs may also damage a bundle of nerves located in the lower part of the spinal cord. When these nerves are compressed, you may experience a severe condition known as cauda equina syndrome, which leads to loss of bowel and bladder control, loss of sensation in the legs, and difficulty walking. Cauda equina syndrome requires immediate medical care and, often, spinal surgery.
Arthritis simply refers to a condition that causes the inflammation of the components of the joints. Some forms of arthritis are due to a fault in the immune system, which mistakenly attacks healthy tissues in the body, or due to metabolic disorder that causes uric acid crystals in excess to build up in the body.
However, other forms of arthritis – like osteoarthritis – are known as “wear and tear arthritis”, or a degenerative form of this disease that occurs due to aging, overuse, excessive stress, and mechanical problems. While osteoarthritis commonly affects the knees of the hips, it can also develop in the lower back. When this happens, this condition is called lumbar or spinal arthritis.
In people with spinal arthritis, the cartilage, which acts as a shock-absorbing “cushion” between the joint’s bones, wears down. When this happens, the bones meeting at a joint are exposed to friction and shock damage, which leads to pain, stiffness, and mechanical problems. loss of mobility, and, over time, disability.
Another form of arthritis that tends to affect the back and neck is ankylosing spondylitis. This condition, which is caused by both genetic and environmental factors, causes chronic inflammation of the joints of the spine and the surrounding structures, such as ligaments and tendons. If left unaddressed, this condition can cause the spine’s bones to fuse together, leading to a severe loss of movement and flexibility.
Both forms of arthritis can cause swelling and the consequent stiffness and redness. In these cases, swelling occurs when the inflammatory response increases the circulation and accumulation of fluids around the injured area.
The spine is a column of small circular bones – the vertebrae – that ensure mobility and flexibility. These bones are kept flexible and protected from shock and damage by the intervertebral discs, which are soft and resistant discs of cartilage located between the vertebrae.
These discs are able to withstand exceptional loads and support the extension, flexion, and rotation of the spine. Each disc has two main components: a softer, inner gel-like core and an outer stronger ring of fibrous cartilage.
Factors like aging, overuse, excessive stress (i.e.: from being overweight), injury, and poor posture can cause these discs to degenerate. Over time, the outer ring of each disc can become less supple and more prone to tears, which can cause the inner gel-like substance to protrude and result in disc herniation.
The protruding core of the disc can press on, damage, or irritate the nearby nerves of the spinal cord, which can become unable to transfer sensory and motor signals from and to the brain. This results in numbness, pain, muscle weakness, burning sensations, and spasms.
As shown by a 2018 study, the body’s inflammatory response is significantly involved in the regression and healing of herniated discs. This means that intervertebral disc injuries will immediately trigger high levels of inflammation and associated symptoms like fluid buildup, tenderness, swelling, redness, and sensations of warmth.
Also known as “the silent disease”, osteoporosis does not cause immediately evident symptoms. But the fact that you are not experiencing pain does not mean that this condition isn’t severe or life-limiting. Indeed, as it progresses undetected, osteoporosis causes bones throughout the body to lose mass and mineral density and become increasingly fragile and prone to fracture.
Weakened bones can cause you to experience a fracture as a consequence of the simplest of movements, such as coughing or sneezing. Over time, this condition also leads to posture issues, poor spine mechanics, loss of height, and a propensity to recurring fractures.
Although studies show that high levels of inflammation may increase the risk of osteoporosis, this condition isn’t directly linked to the body’s inflammatory response. But what does cause swelling, in this case, is the fact that recurring fractures can force patients to experience periods of immobilization and a sedentary lifestyle, which are risk factors for poor blood circulation and, as a consequence, swelling and blood clots.
Manage Fatigue-Related Pain From These Conditions With Neuragenex
Low back swelling is associated with conditions that also cause inflammation and pain in the lumbar spine, including sprains and strains, disc injuries, and arthritis. So, the two conditions tend to have shared risk factors and causes. Below, we’ll look at the environmental, health, and lifestyle factors that may contribute to low back swelling.
- Age: Disc degeneration is a normal aspect of the aging process, thus making disc tears and herniation more likely in individuals aged between 30 and 50. The aging process can also accelerate the loss of bone mass, putting older individuals at greater risk of osteoporosis.
- Obesity or being overweight: Having a high Body Mass Index accounts for over 12% of the years of disability experienced by people with chronic back pain. Carrying extra weight can speed up the degeneration of the discs and puts excessive pressure on the spine’s components.
- Overall health status: A sedentary lifestyle, drinking alcohol excessively, and smoking cigarettes are some of the lifestyle factors associated with a higher risk of low back pain, inflammation, and swelling. Poor core muscle conditioning can also make injuries like strains more likely.
- Occupation and lifestyle: Some occupations and hobbies that involve forceful or repetitive twisting motions, heavy lifting, bending, and jumping can increase the risk of back injury and accelerate the degeneration of the intervertebral discs.
- Spine alignment: Back pain can result from mechanical issues such as poor posture and structural problems like scoliosis or spinal stenosis. These conditions change the mechanics of the spine and expose certain components, like ligaments and bones, to friction damage. Over time, this leads to pain, swelling, and the compression of nearby spinal cord nerves.
- Comorbidities: You may be at greater risk of suffering from chronic back pain and swelling if you have a family history of osteoarthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Tumors and other abnormalities that affect the spine and the spinal cord can also lead to pain shooting down your leg, numbness or tingling sensations, and swelling.
Low back pain has also been seen to be associated with mental health disorders such as depression. Because of the wide array of causes, habits, and clinical conditions that can lead to back pain and swelling, obtaining an accurate diagnosis is the first step to finding treatment.
When To See A Doctor For Lower Back Swelling
Lower back swelling and pain can be telltale signs of a severe, longer-lasting, or degenerative health problem. So, it is important to know when to see a doctor for lower back swelling and pain.
- Tip: If you’re experiencing sudden or severe swelling that emerges alongside symptoms like severe headaches, loss of bladder and bowel control, problems with walking and balance, and trouble speaking, getting immediate medical care can make a difference between life and death.
Some of the symptoms that should encourage you to seek medical care include:
- Swelling without prior conditions or injuries: If you experience back swelling without a clear cause or prior injury, this could potentially be a sign of ankylosing spondylitis. This chronic inflammatory disease primarily affects the spine and can cause stiffness, pain, and swelling in the lower back.
- Pain that lasts for more than one month: If the pain and swelling persist for more than a month, it may not be caused by temporary issues like sprains or strains. In this case, visiting a healthcare provider can help you identify the root cause of your pain, which may be a degenerative long-term condition like arthritis.
- Tingling, numbness, and weakness in the back and legs: If the lower back swelling and pain are accompanied by a loss of sensation and muscle strength that radiates through the legs, you may be experiencing nerve damage. Damages, irritated, or compressed nerves in or outside of the spinal cord can sever the connection between your limbs and buttocks, and brain. Conditions that can lead to nerve damage include spinal stenosis, disc herniation, cauda equina syndrome, and sciatica.
- Redness and warmth in the legs: If you have noticed that your legs appear swollen or red, and you experience a sensation of warmth, you may be dealing with blood circulation issues. This form of edema may occur due to a sedentary lifestyle, but conditions like varicose veins and chronic vein insufficiency.
- Fever and chills: Fever and chills that accompany swelling and pain indicate that your body may be trying to fight back a spinal or intervertebral disc space infection caused by bacteria in the bloodstream.
- Nausea and vomiting: Some infections – such as cellulitis – can develop into more serious conditions such as infections of the bone (osteomyelitis) and of the membrane around the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). These infections cause pain that radiates from the back to the legs and swelling, alongside fatigue, nausea, and vomiting. These infections are considered to be medical emergencies and require immediate medical care.
- Diarrhea: Severe conditions, including kidney failure and kidney infections, can cause back pain and diarrhea.
Swelling in the lower back may also be a symptom of complications of pregnancy and problems affecting the female reproductive organs, as well as potentially fatal conditions like swelling in the aorta (abdominal aortic aneurysm). Seeking an accurate diagnosis is essential to determine what’s causing your back pain or swelling, and to find adequate treatment.
How Swelling In The Lower Back Is Diagnosed
Although there isn’t a specific diagnostic test for back pain, your healthcare provider will use a range of tools to identify the root cause of any pain or swelling you are experiencing. A doctor will start by reviewing your medical history and symptoms, and then, he or she will carry out a comprehensive medical exam.
Healthcare providers can also prescribe more in-depth tests, such as the following:
- X-Rays: X-rays use radiation that passes through the body to create an image of bones and other structures. It is used to determine the presence of anomalies, including tumors.
- MRIs: A Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) test uses radio waves and magnets to create pictures of your inner lower back, including ligaments, tendons, muscles, and bones.
- CT Scans: CT scans work by using X-ray technology to create detailed 3D images of the spine and surrounding structures. These images can help doctors identify specific causes of low back pain, such as herniated discs or spinal stenosis.
- Electromyography: Electromyography measures the electrical activity in your muscles and determines the nerves’ ability to transfer sensory and motor signals. This test can help identify whether your back pain arises from a nerve or muscle problem.
Other tests may be used to determine the root cause of the pain and swelling in the lower back, including blood tests, bone density tests, and neurological exams.
Conventional Treatment Options
If you have chronic or acute low back pain accompanied by swelling and stiffness, you may take advantage of some home remedies and conventional treatments to address your symptoms. These therapies don’t directly address the root cause of your back pain, and they are often inefficient in helping you regain your spine mobility.
Nonetheless, the temporary analgesic effects these treatments offer can help you make it through a particularly painful flare-up. Let’s look at these treatment options below.
- Rest: Rest can help relieve the pressure on your lower back, especially if your back pain derives from compression injuries, such as disc herniation or degeneration. Relieving pressure from the spinal cord nerves can also help you regain sensation and mobility.
- Heat/Ice: Hot and cold compresses can be used efficiently to reduce inflammation and swelling, ease muscle tension and stiffness, and improve mobility. In particular, heat should be used in the event of old injuries to support the circulation of fresh blood, oxygen, and nutrients; ice should be used to reduce blood pressure around the newly injured area and reduce the build-up of fluids.
- Over-The-Counter Pain Relievers: OTC pain relievers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be used to ease pain during a flare-up. However, given the side effects these therapies cause (i.e.: peptic ulcers, increased risk of heart attack and stroke, and addiction) they should not be considered long-term treatment options.
- Stretching: Light stretching exercises can ease muscle tension and relieve the pressure on the sciatica nerve and on the nerves of the spinal cord. This eases inflammation, boosts blood circulation, and relieves pain. In patients with chronic back pain, stretching can also help reduce the associated disability.
- Physical Therapy: Physical therapy may be used to strengthen the muscles of the back, leg, and core, which play an essential role in supporting the spine, redistributing loads, and preventing injuries.
- Massage: Massage therapy may help release the body’s natural pain-killing hormones (endorphins), reduce muscle tension, and ease pressure on the spine’s components. However, studies have seen that reduction in pain and improved mobility only occurred for a brief period after the massage.
- Acupuncture: Acupuncture involves the insertion of fine needles into particular points of the body. This stimulates the nervous system to release endorphins and other pain-relieving chemicals, which can help to reduce pain and inflammation in the lower back.
- Chiropractic Treatment: Chiropractic treatments involve the manipulation of the spine to rebalance its motions and correct its mechanics. Although this therapy does not work for everyone, it can help reduce pain, swelling, and disability caused by pinched nerves, mechanical problems, and poor posture.
- Epidural Injections: Epidural steroid injections decrease inflammation and swelling in the spinal nerves, which can alleviate pain and improve mobility. The injection is administered directly into the epidural space within the spine, commonly targeting the lumbar region.
These lines of treatment may seem easily accessible and often affordable. However, in most cases, they are inefficient at best and dangerous at worst.
Fortunately, doubtful alternative therapies and pharmaceutical treatments are no longer the only option to treat lower back swelling and pain. Here’s the non-pharmaceutical, non-invasive, and non-chiropractic approach pioneered by Neuragenex.
How Neuragenex Treats Neurological Conditions Causing Swelling In The Lower Back
When it comes to managing lower back swelling and pain, Neurofunctional Pain Management takes a unique approach. This method addresses all health and lifestyle factors that could be contributing to your condition, from nutrition to sleep habits.
Unlike conventional treatments that simply aim to relieve pain, Neuragenex targets the source of your low back pain, swelling, and discomfort, which can help establish a foundation for long-term health.
The whole-person Neurofunctional Pain Management protocol uses non-invasive procedures and drug-free therapies to restore your spine functionalities and health. Here are the three pillars of this approach:
Electroanalgesia is a pain management technique that uses high-pulse electrical current to ease pain, boost blood circulation, improve mobility, and induce...
IV nutritional therapy, or intravenous therapy, involves administering vital nutrients directly to the bloodstream through an IV. This type of treatment bypasses the digestive system, allowing for maximum absorption and utilization of nutrients by the...
Lifestyle counseling is an approach to managing chronic pain that involves identifying, assessing, and modifying lifestyle factors contributing to an individual's pain. For example, lifestyle factors such as nutrition, physical activity, stress, sleep quality...
Seek The Best Treatment For Swelling In Your Lower Back
If you suffer from lower back swelling and pain, you may see all aspects of your professional and personal life affected by the discomfort and loss of mobility. To make things worse, obtaining an accurate diagnosis for your condition and finding an efficient treatment may begin to seem impossible.
That’s where Neurofunctional Pain Management comes in. At Neurganex, we aim to go beyond simply addressing the symptoms of your low back pain and swelling: we provide a whole-person approach that is non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, and efficient in helping you regain your spine health.
Neuragenex helps patients address the cause of pain, not just the symptoms.