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A guide to back pain causes and treatment
Published on 08 August 2017 by Amanda Marsh, Head of Physiotherapy, updated on 08 August 2017
It's not always possible to identify the cause of back pain but it’s seldom anything serious. The majority of back pain is known as "non-specific" meaning there's no obvious cause for the pain, or "mechanical" which means that the pain originates from the joints, bones or soft tissues around the spine.
Mechanical back pain: • Tends to get better or worse depending on your position • Typically feels worse when moving – but it's not a good idea to avoid moving your back completely, as this can make things worse • Can come on suddenly or gradually • Sometimes it can be the result of poor posture or lifting something awkwardly, but often occurs for no apparent reason • May be due to a minor injury such as sprain (pulled ligament) or strain (pulled muscle) • Can be associated with feeling stressed or run down • Will usually start to get better within a few weeks
There are other medical conditions that may cause back pain such as a slipped or prolapsed disc, sciatica or ankylosing spondylitis which are treated differently to non-specific back pain. Rarely back pain may be a sign of a serious problem such as cauda equine or a broken vertebra. During your assessment with a medical professional they will look for signs of these to rule them out.
Treatments for back pain: Back pain usually resolves within a few weeks or months but if not, you may benefit from seeing a physiotherapist.
Treatments you can try yourself are: • Gentle exercise and stretches and keeping active. Bed rest is to be avoided and discouraged. Try walking, swimming, yoga or Pilates. • Pain relief -Paracetamol and NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are sometimes advised if the pain you feel is stopping you • Hot and cold packs - Some people find heat or cold packs help or even a combination of both. Give it a go and see what helps you. • Relaxation techniques and trying to stay positive has been shown to improve the rate of recovery and helps you get better quicker.
Physiotherapy can help speed up the healing process with the use of manual therapy and guidance on what to do to help your back.
Here are some common myths associated with back pain that have been ‘busted’ with recent research and evidence taken from the CSP website. 1. “Moving will make my back pain worse” - People fear twisting and bending but it’s essential to keep moving. Gradually increase how much you are doing and keep on the go 2. “I should avoid exercise especially weight training” - Back pain shouldn’t stop you enjoying exercise or regular activities. In fact, studies found that continuing with these can help you get better sooner including weights where appropriate 3. “A scan will show me exactly what’s wrong” - Sometimes it will, but most often it won’t. Also, people without back pain have changes in their spine, so scans can cause fear that influences behaviour, making the problem worse 4. “Pain equals damage” - This was the established view but more recent research has changed our thinking. Modern physiotherapy takes a holistic approach that helps people understand why they are in pain and how to manage it