What is Low Back Pain?
Back pain is a very common condition seen with more than 80% of people worldwide experiencing some pain in their life. However, low back pain is rarely serious with only 1% of back pain disorders related to cancer, infection, fracture or an inflammatory process and only 5% of back pain associated with nerve compression. In fact, 90–95% of low back pain cases are due to simple sprains and strains which cannot be seen on scans, and recover quickly without the need for low back pain treatment.
Although symptoms are primarily felt in the lower back, other symptoms can include
- Mid and upper back pain
- Hip and groin pain
- Coccyx pain,
- Leg pain, and
- Pins and needles or numbness.
What Causes Back Pain?
Back pain can occur following physical trauma (such as a road traffic collision or fall), however, the likelihood of developing symptoms and the severity of symptoms depends on a combination of factors including
- Prolonged positions or activities that put excessive or repeated strain on your back – such as through poor manual handling techniques at home or work, or long periods of inactivity.
- Individual factors – being female, increasing age and pregnancy all increase the likelihood of developing pain.
- Physical wellbeing factors – smoking, obesity and poor general fitness all increase the likelihood of developing pain and the length of time it takes to recover.
- Psychological wellbeing factors – stress, depression and anxiety all increase the likelihood of developing pain and even increase the severity of pain and the length of time it takes to recover.
How can I help myself?
Most low back pain cases will resolve quickly without the need for treatment, however, your attitude and the actions you take are the most important factors in preventing long-term problems. The most effective way to manage symptoms of low back pain are to
- Avoid static positions for long periods of time and keep active. Low impact exercise such as yoga, pilates and swimming can be a good starting point. Exercise is also key in preventing further episodes of back pain by increasing your general fitness and improving your body’s ability to cope with physical demands.
- Talk to your GP or pharmacist about what pain relief may be right for you. If your pain is controlled, you will be able to maintain more movement
- Apply gentle heat to reduce muscle spasm and pain.
- Ensure you are following all manual handling techniques correctly at home and work – keep the load close to your waist, use your legs to lift, lower or push loads as these are the most powerful muscles in the body, and work within your capability.
When should I seek further help?
If symptoms are worsening after 1 week of trying the above strategies, contact your GP surgery for further assistance. They may refer you to a physiotherapist who can offer the following low back pain treatment:
- Assess your symptoms,
- Help you understand your condition
- Help identify the factors that may be have caused or be aggravating your symptoms and providing advice on how to minimise these,
- Develop symptom management strategies so you always feel in control
- Provide an individualised exercise program to improve mobility and strength in order to address symptoms but also to prevent future episodes.
While lower back pain is rarely due to anything serious, you should attend A&E urgently if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty passing urine
- Loss of control of your bladder or bowel
- Numbness around the genitals or groin area
- Severe weakness in your legs
- Numbness or pins and needles in BOTH your legs.
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