Is lower back pain making it difficult for you to bend, sit or stand? Is it preventing you from being active? The good news is the Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center at Sugar Land offers a variety of treatments to help relieve your pain and get you back in action.




“Lifting a heavy object or even a simple movement — like twisting the wrong way — can result in lower back pain,” said Larry Tran, M.D., board-certified neurologist and medical director of the Houston Methodist Neuroscience & Spine Center at Sugar Land. “But certain factors increase a person’s risk.” These might include:


  • Age. Older adults may be more susceptible to osteoarthritis and disk deterioration.
  • Occupation. Employees in jobs requiring repetitive bending, heavy lifting or long periods of standing or sitting are more likely to suffer back pain.
  • Overweight or obesity. Excess weight adds stress to the spine and back muscles.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Weak back muscles and lack of core strength make it easier to injure the back.
  • Smoking. Smokers tend to have a higher risk of back pain.




Chronic pain may be caused by an underlying condition, such as arthritis, degenerative disk disease, spinal abnormalities, or even cancer and infection. “With chronic pain, we need to do further investigation to try and find the underlying cause,” Tran said. “That helps us develop a treatment plan that may resolve the issue or at least improve the patient’s quality of life.”


A thorough physical exam is done to eliminate any red flags. “If we do see a red flag — which could be progressive pain, leg weakness, urinary problems, numbness, fever, rash or a history of cancer — we will likely order imaging tests, such as X-ray, CT scan or MRI,” Tran said. “If there is a discrepancy between scans, or if a patient cannot have an MRI because of previous surgery, we may consider a myelogram.” A myelogram uses X-rays and a contrast dye to evaluate the spine.


Another option is electromyography (EMG), a comprehensive test of muscles and nerves. An EMG can detect muscle and nerve problems that may reveal superimposed disorders, such as diabetic neuropathy.


In some cases, blood work may be ordered to make sure there is no inflammation or infection causing the problem.




Lower back pain is often acute, lasting no more than six to eight weeks. It can be due to a sports injury, such as a pulled muscle or strained tendon or ligament, from twisting or lifting something heavy or working on the yard.


“Generally, acute lower back pain will get better within a few weeks, perhaps benefiting from some over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®)  or naproxen (Aleve®),” Tran said. “In some cases, we may prescribe a muscle relaxer to help with spasms.”




“There are four main pillars of treatment: medications, injections, physical therapy and surgery,” Tran said. “Medications don’t fix the underlying problem, but may offer some relief. Another potential treatment is oral steroids to ease pain and reduce inflammation and targeted steroid injections into the lower back.”


Physical therapy is often very effective for both acute and chronic lower back pain. “When you’re in pain, you may not want to move, but not moving is one of the worst things to do,” Tran said. “Physical therapy can help people learn better posture and strengthen their core and supporting muscles, offering both short- and long-term benefits.”


Our doctors focus on the least invasive, but most effective treatments, first. However, in some cases surgery may be necessary.


“For example, we saw a young woman in her 30s who said she picked up her child and heard a pop from something in her back followed by pain,” Tran explained. “Normally that would be an instance of acute pain that would resolve itself. However, we recognized weakness in her legs that shouldn’t have been there. We were able to perform an MRI right away and discovered a disk had extruded itself into the spinal cord and she had surgery to correct the problem.”