Have you ever suffered from back pain? Whether this is in the form of neck, upper or lower back pain. Are you suffering now? Have you just woken up one morning with back pain or stiffness? Or moved the wrong way and suddenly you are now a sufferer of back pain? Or has this been a gradual build up and never being able to find something that really helps with the pain and feeling a total lack of control? Either way however your previous or current symptoms sit, you are definitely not alone!
Firstly, let’s take a look at the statistics
The most common area of back pain is lower back pain, which is defined as the lumbosacral area (around the waist line).
According to the NICE (National Institute of Care and Excellence) guidelines, 60% of the UK population and 80% of the global population will suffer from lower back pain at some point in their lifetime! Resulting in around 20% of the UK population seeking GP advice per year!
What we tend to hear quite often is people over the ages of 60+ feel they have to ‘just live with it’ and that it is ‘normal’ to get back pain as we get older. In some cases yes, changes do occur to the spine but you could scan 1000 people of that particular age group and 90% will show ‘age related’ changes but not everyone suffers from pain as a result. In fact, the Peak age of experiencing lower back pain is between the ages of 40-50 years of age and subsequently more common among females. This is largely due to the changes that occur during the menopause which fits within the age bracket mentioned. Now this is a whole topic on its own which hopefully we will cover!
What Actually is Lower Back Pain?
Lower back pain is conventionally defined as pain, muscle tension or stiffness localised below the costal margin and above the inferior gluteal folds, with or without associated leg pain. 90% of the lower back pain sufferers experience what we call non-specific lower back pain (NSLBP) where the cause of the lower back pain cannot be pin-pointed to a specific structure or cause. The latter cases are mostly due to nerve root problems, disc hernias, facet joint irritation, fractures, osteoporosis, rheumatic diseases, spondyloarthropathy, infections or cancer.
Lower back pain can be more localised or it can refer into the buttock or the leg. When the pain refers, this is normally due to a nerve root problem which is quite common. This can also be accompanied by pins and needles and/or numbness as well. The nerves in our body relay information from the brain to other areas of the body (muscles, organs etc). The nerves are surrounded by a sheath ligament type tissue which has its over nerve supply which can often be a source of pain itself!
Luckily, most cases of lower back pain have a favourable outcome. Half the battle is knowing what to do at the time of injury and preventative measures.
Now sometimes our bodies or gender can put us more at risk of experiencing lower back pain in our lifetime. These are known as non-modifiable risk factors, and things that we can change are known as modifiable risk factors.
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors for LBP
- Gender – as previously mentioned. Females are more at risk of LBP. This can be to do with hormones, perimenopausal and post menopausal etc.
Now although these are ‘non-modifiable’ do not lose hope! There are steps that can be taken to relieve and manage your symptoms
Modifiable Risk Factors for LBP
- Weight Gain – Yes, unwanted extra weight can increase the load going through your joints and especially your lower back due to it being a very key central point in the body. For example, Experts estimate that for every 1 pound you weigh, your knees feel the force of 3 pounds of pressure when you take a step!
- Sedentary lifestyle – Men and women living a sedentary life are at greater risk of developing backache than people who exercise.
- Smoking – Numerous studies have shown that smoking is linked to increased lower back pain. Along with increasing your risk of injury and a bone thinning condition known as osteoporosis.
- Job related risks – While every job comes with potential risks, physically demanding jobs that require a person to lift, pull, push, or bend repeatedly can result in back problems and pain. These movements can hurt your back if you’re using the wrong technique or form especially if the load is too heavy.
- Mental Health – Studies have shown that people who suffer from anxiety and/or depression will experience more intense pain compared to someone who doesn’t have anxiety and/or depression.
So How Do I Start Taking Back Control?
Maybe you have just experienced your first episode of lower back pain, or maybe this is another episode and you’re wondering what to do? Back pain will usually improve within a few weeks or months. There are several things you can try to help reduce your pain in the meantime.
One of the most important things you can do is to keep moving and continue with your normal activities as much as possible.
It used to be thought that bed rest would help you recover from a bad back, but it’s now known that people who remain active are likely to recover quicker.
This may be difficult at first, but do not be discouraged – your pain should start to improve eventually. Consider taking painkillers if the pain is stopping you from carrying on as normal.
Back Specific Exercises and Stretches:
You may have been given some back exercises previously, if so go dig them out! They may come in handy to start you slowly getting things moving again. Otherwise your physiotherapist or GP can prescribe some specific lower back exercises to start off with. Some discomfort is okay during the exercises but if the exercises are making things worse then consult your GP or local physiotherapist.
Taking painkillers is not always a bad thing, especially at first. We often get told that people do not want to take painkillers as a fear of masking the pain. However, it can be very helpful in the beginning to take things such as paracetamol and/or ibuprofen to enable early moving, exercises and stretches as we mentioned above are very beneficial.
Using Hot/Cold Packs
Hot and cold packs can be really useful to have in the house especially when an accident or injury catches you out! Hot packs such as wheat bags, hot water bottles or therapearl packs are mainly used when your muscles are tight or inflamed, thus providing short term pain relief. You can apply heat as many times as you want for however long, just make sure it isn’t too hot when applied to the targeted area.
Cold packs can be very useful for areas of swelling or an acute injury. Cold should not be applied for longer than 10-15 minutes at a time and to make sure it is wrapped in a towel when applied to the skin to prevent any chill burns.
You can also alternate between hot and cold therapy.
If you have done everything you can and the back pain is lasting longer than you expected or you need some ideas on preventative measures then contact us at Thorpes Physiotherapy.
What can we offer?
1. We can get you into our clinic quickly and seen by one of our experienced physiotherapists
2. You can Skip those GP queues
3. We can help make sense of those symptoms you are experiencing and get to the root cause
4. We can provide fantastic hands on treatment to help with your back pain
5. We can prescribe exercises that will help with your current pain but also to be used as a preventative measure
6. We offer a Better Back Programme which is led by an experienced physiotherapist providing an exercise class which is tailored and modified for you within a safe space. Along with education talks at the beginning of each class because education is KEY!
7. We can help reduce your painkiller intake whether this is something you’ve just started taking or you’ve been on them for years!
We know with lower back pain, one size does not fit all and we always take this approach in assessing and treating each individual
If you wish to book a physiotherapy appointment or are unsure if physiotherapy or acupuncture can help you, why not contact our team on: 01276 37670 or email us at: email@example.com
We are offering FREE 15-minute discovery calls where one of our physiotherapists can call you to discuss your problem and ascertain whether you would benefit from physiotherapy. You can book online here or give us a call.
As Always, Thanks for reading and We hope to hear from you soon!
Jessica Reed (BSc, SRP, MCSP, AACP)
Specialist MSK Physiotherapist