Although lower back pain is a common ailment, the pain doesn't always come from an obvious cause. A viral infection, such as shingles, can cause pain along the lumbar nerves in your lower back. The pain starts a few days before the rash appears on your body, so you may think something else is causing the discomfort. But if you've ever had chickenpox, you can develop shingles, a condition that can be quite painful.
Shingles break out on only one side of your body -- normally on your trunk. The shingles rash usually starts near the middle of your back and wraps around to your abdomen or chest. However, this painful band of blisters can occur anywhere on your body, including around one eye or down one side of your face or neck. You also may have more than one area where the rash appears.
The varicella-zoster virus -- a form of the herpes virus -- is the cause. It's the same virus that causes chickenpox. After you've had chickenpox, the virus can enter nerve tissue in your spinal cord where it may lie dormant for years. But there is always the chance the virus will reactivate as shingles.
You can pass on the virus to others if you have the shingles rash and the blisters haven't yet scabbed over. Pregnant women, babies, and individuals with a weakened immune system are at particular risk if they come into direct contact with the virus. If you've never had chickenpox and are infected, you will get chickenpox, not shingles.
While pain is usually the first symptom you experience with shingles, other symptoms may include rash, itching, numbness or tingling, joint pain, fatigue, and headache. Because some people suffer shingles pain without developing a rash, the condition is sometimes mistaken for another health problem.
Generally, you feel pain in your back or chest where the nerves are affected. Pain can precede the rash by days or weeks. You also may experience swelling or tenderness of the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes often swell when viral or bacterial infections are present in the body.
If you already suffer from a chronic illness or have lowered immunity, you are at higher risk for complications from shingles. Because of the effects of aging on the immune system, elderly adults who aren't immune to chickenpox are at increased risk.
Besides back or neck pain, complications shingles can cause permanent vision damage if you have pain or rash near one of your eyes and the infection goes untreated. Bacterial skin infections, hearing problems, facial paralysis, or acute infection of the brain (encephalitis) are additional complications of shingles.
The shingles virus can cause nerve damage, which may lead to chronic pain. Postherpetic neuralgia -- a common complication of shingles -- affects the nerve fibers and skin in the area affected by shingles. In some cases, the pain lasts for months or years after the rash heals. Individuals often describe it as a burning, shooting pain they mistake for a pinched nerve.
If help from a chiropractic clinic, like Valley Chiropractic, isn't enough, consider looking for alternative causes of your back pain.