What is "lumbago?" My grandmother keeps telling me she has this condition. It seems to come and go, but I can't figure out what it is.

Lumbago is defined as mild to severe pain or discomfort in the area of the lower back. The pain can come on suddenly and go away quickly. For some people it lasts for months. Lumbago occurs in people of all ages. Younger people whose work involves physical effort are most likely to have lumbago. It's not uncommon in people of retirement age.

Most of the time, there's no known cause of this backache. Slipped disc, osteoporosis (brittle bones), and scoliosis are three of the most likely causes. Tumors and infection can also cause lumbago.

You'll probably notice your grandmother has some trouble moving. Bending forward and leaning back are difficult. Muscle tension and stiffness are common problems with lumbago. Patients may even have numbness and tingling in the back, buttocks, or leg.

Keep an eye on your grandma. If she suddenly loses control of her bladder or bowel movements call her doctor right away. There could be some pressure on the spinal cord or spinal nerves. Early treatment is essential if permanent damage is to be avoided.

Remind her to stay active. Encourage her to do as much as she can given her pain and stiffness. A swimming or aquatic program in warm water is often helpful. Remind her to avoid stooping, bending, lifting and sitting on low chairs.