Lumbago, aka lower back pain, is a major problem. This study found that 1 in 4 people in the U.S. reported lumbago in the prior 3 months of being questioned. Read on to learn what lumbago is, what causes it, and how to fix it.
Lumbago /ˌləmˈbāˌɡō/ Origin: Latin, from lumbus
Definition: "acute or chronic pain (such as that caused by muscle strain) in the lower back" (Merriam-Webster)
What Is Lumbago?
Lumbago is an old-school term for lower back pain.
Lumbago was once an old English blanket term to describe all non-specific lower back pain, but since the 1800s medicine has gotten better at diagnosing more specific, descriptive cases of lumbago.
For example - lower back pain diagnoses such as muscle spasms, herniated discs, scoliosis, and spinal stenosis would have all been bucketed as "lumbago" 100 years ago. Today in 2024 we can isolate the sources and correct "lumbago" more accurately.
What Causes Lumbago?
Many things can cause lumbago, so take this list with a grain of salt. It doesn't take a professional to confirm that your back hurts, but it may take one to confirm why.
Here are some things that could be going on under the hood of your lower back and contributing to lumbago:
Muscle Spasm: Muscle spasms can occur when stress is placed on the lower back that it is not conditioned to handle, causing muscles to seize and tense. Muscle spasms are protective, and contract your muscles to prevent spinal damage - which is actually good short-term lower back protection. The problem is that days, weeks, or even years later spasms can stay clenched and be incredibly painful and uncomfortable.
Disc Injuries: When the spine is placed in a compromised position for either a) a long time, or b) an extremely pressurized time, the discs (padded gel-like cushion between vertebrae) can "herniate" or bulge out of place. This becomes extremely painful when a herniation or bulge pushes on a spinal nerve, which can radiate pain signals like none other.
Sedentary Lifestyle: Lack of movement can lead to the stiffening, weakening, and hardening of joints and muscles. Over the years, generally starting around the mid-20s, this can gradually build into what feels like "lumbago". Stiffening/hardening may take 5 years to build in the background but 1 day to finally manifest and ache like mad.
Trigger Points/Tension: Similar to muscle spasms, trigger points (aka knots or tension) can create nagging, constant pain in and around the lower back. If you feel like you just can't stretch, and feel like a muscle (or muscles) is always pulling on you, you may have picked up trigger points from an activity. Thankfully, the simple solution to trigger points is thorough deep tissue massage.
Inflexibility: Stiffness in muscles increases pressure and strain on joints. In an area as busy and complex as the lower back, every stiff muscle creates an additional degree of strain on the poor vertebrae. Stretching open the hip flexors and glutes in particular can go a long way in lumbago relief.
Weakness: Lower back strength is lumbago protection. The lower back is supported on all angles by the lower abs, obliques, QL muscles, hip flexors, Multifidus, lats, glutes, and more. If any of these areas are weak, that is a vulnerability that may leave you open to developing lower back pain from physical activity.
Obesity: Excess weight is an excess strain on the lower back, particularly when it is coupled with weakness. I don't think we need a lecture on the pressure a beer belly can place on the lower back.
Stress: Nerves can radiate physical pain under mental and emotional stress. Our bodies are interconnected, and something like an emotionally draining job can increase your chances of lumbago or other body pains showing up.
Posture: The further forward the head is, and the further slumped the shoulders are - the greater strain is placed on the poor lower back. Read "How can poor posture result in back pain?" for more.
Spinal Deformity: Vertebral conditions including scoliosis, spinal stenosis, vertebral damage, etc. require an MRI and medical attention. It is best to seek professional help for serious lumbago cases.
How To Fix Lumbago
There are various treatment options for lumbago. These are treatment methods we have seen fix lumbago, and how they work.
Our quick Lumbago fix (disclaimer): If you suspect you overdid it with your back - take the steps of walking, massage, resting, and avoiding pain triggers. If you suspect you are too sedentary or fragile - take the steps of massage, strengthen, do PT exercises, and stretch the hip flexors.
1. Massage / Trigger Point Therapy
Starting with the lowest cost, least invasive option. Particularly best for cases of muscle spasms and trigger points/tension.
An effective massage is like a muscle reset, a muscle cleanse. Before massage, you have all of this tense, tough, rigid, muscle tissue that puts so much unnecessary pressure and strain on the lower back. After massage, your muscles are relaxed, not tense, and free to move and work like normal again.
Massage can be done by the hands of a professional, or at home with a purposefully made tool like QL Claw.
2. Physical Therapy
There are a handful of PT techniques that can be very useful. These are often most effective in a clinic, with a trained set of eyes walking you through each step tailored to your body.
Strengthening: A physical therapy visit will typically include several strength tests to see if there are weaknesses in and around the lower back. If a PT identifies a weak point, strengthening that area(s) can provide a great deal of support and lumbago relief.
McGill Method: Dr. Stuart McGill is the most famous back doctor of all time, and he identified 3 core exercises and several lifestyle corrections that nearly universally help with lumbago. The McGill techniques can be baked into a PT program or learned on your own with his books and resources.
Muscle Activation: Another PT practice is to ensure the muscles in and around your back actually work. The glutes commonly forget how to work in folks with lumbago, so PTs will often work on retraining this muscle group to fire/activate -> which takes a ton of pressure off the lower back.
Stretching: Stiffness in particular muscle groups - especially the hip flexors, glutes, and mid/upper back - causes the lower back to take up more pressure and strain in daily life. If you have developed stiffness over years, a deep tissue massage may be needed first, but if you can build length in the preceding muscles your lower back will biomechanically have less pressure and will thank you.
Habit Correction: There are things you should and shouldn't do every day to make your lower back healthy. Learning back-friendly posture, avoiding pain triggers, and learning to brace the core are a few quick habits you can implement to reduce lumbago.
In extreme cases, and in my opinion what should be the last resort, surgery is an option. Surgery can be very expensive and final/undoable, so make sure to consult several professionals and try non-invasive treatment first. I am just a biomedical engineer, this is not medical advice.
Discectomy: A discectomy is the removal of a portion of a spinal disc. This disc is typically protruding and compressing a nerve, potentially causing immense pain.
Fusion: A fusion permanently fixes vertebrae together, so there is no movement between them. *Disclaimer* The problem I have with fusions as a biomedical engineer, is that they increase the strain on the vertebrae directly above and below the fusion - not fixing the problem but just moving it. That being said - I am not a doctor.
Sometimes, you just need time to desensitize the lower back. One phrase the seems to hold true with lumbago is "the less you hurt your back, the less you hurt your back". If you can avoid pain triggers long enough, your brain will forget that that pain trigger usually hurts, and the pain trigger can cease to exist.
Depending on your case, the rest can be 3 days or 3 months. Listen to your body, and remember it is better to be safe than sorry because it is entirely possible to undo progress.
Lumbago ICD 10 Codes:
M54.5 - Lumbago
- M54.50 Low back pain, unspecified
- M54.51 Vertebrogenic low back pain
- M54.59 Other low back pain
M54.4 - Lumbago w/Sciatica
- M54.40 Lumbago with sciatica, unspecified side
- M54.41 Lumbago with sciatica, right side
- M54.42 Lumbago with sciatica, left side
If lumbago persists, it is a good idea to see a trained professional. Physical Therapists ("Physios" in some parts of the world), Doctors, Chiropractors, and Massage Therapists all have lumbago expertise.
If trained professionals don't work, try again our blog and YouTube channel, or reach out to us.
What Does Lumbago Mean?
Lower back pain. The lower back hurts.
What Is Lumbago With Sciatica?
Sciatica is the compression of the sciatic nerve, which can create symptoms of radiation, numbness, pain, and tingling around the tailbone, glute, and down the leg. "Lumbago with sciatica" is lower back pain with the additional symptoms of sciatica.
What Is Lumbago rdr2?
"rdr2" is the video game "Red Dead Redemption 2". In the story of the game, a character allegedly comes down with "terminal lumbago". This is an entirely fictional scenario.
What Is Lumbago Called Now?
Lower back pain. Lumbago is an old-school term for back pain that has been replaced verbatim by "lower back pain" and semantically by more descriptive diagnoses (see examples above).
Is Lumbago Terminal?
No, but it can sure feel like it. Contrary to a Red Dead Redemption 2 game scenario rumor, Lumbago is not terminal.
 Davies, Clair, and Amber Davies. The Trigger Point Therapy Workbook: Your Self-Treatment Guide for Pain Relief. 3rd ed., New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2013.
 Donnelly, Joseph M. Travell, Simons & Simons Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: the Trigger Point Manual. 3rd ed., Wolters Kluwer Health, 2019.