"Mechanical pain," the most common form of low back pain, is caused by abnormal pressure placed on the muscles and tendons that surround the vertebral column. Like many chronic conditions (diabetes, asthma), with mechanical low back pain you can do a lot personally to help keep the severity of the condition in check.
This type of lower back pain is often associated with degenerative disc disease. While the term "degenerative" does sound awful, the symptoms do not necessarily progress.
The natural history of degenerative disc disease is a chronic low level of pain or discomfort with intermittent flare ups of pain. Managing this common type of lower back pain has two main objectives:
Become an expert at pain management
Remember that certain pain management techniques work for some people while others don't. With this in mind, it's best to be open to trying new methods of pain management. Keeping the pain at a tolerable level will help keep you active, which in turn will help minimize the pain and prevent it from getting worse. Common pain management techniques include ice packs, heating pads, over-the-counter or prescription pain medications, and possibly epidural steroid injections.
Some people find alternative treatments quite helpful, such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, or massage therapy. Personally, I think nothing beats a good neuromuscular massage. Recent studies have shown the tremendous effect mindful meditation can have on your perception of chronic pain.
Try a combination of all these pain management suggestions to find out what works for you. Please keep in mind that something that has worked for you in the past may not always work.
Stay healthy overall
Good overall health -- and the health of the muscles, ligaments and tendons that support your spine -- will go a long way to minimizing painful flare-ups. Exercise, sleep, and physical fitness are critical, including stretching and building strength in the core trunk muscles that help support the spine.
Participating in aerobic exercise increases blood flow which is essential to bringing important nutrients to the discs in the low back. Modifying movements and practicing good posture minimizes stress on the low back and helps prevent injury. Eating well fortifies the body (including spinal discs) against degeneration. And, of course, you can avoid damaging the body further from smoking or excessive alcohol.
It is by no means a guarantee that the condition won't worsen -- some people can do everything right and their back pain still gets much worse. But for most of us, these lifestyle changes can go a long way to keeping the pain in check and, importantly, avoiding the need for extensive surgery.