As one of the most common health complaints in the UK, chances are we will all experience back pain in some form at some point

 

Back pain is something we’ve all experienced at one time or another, whether as a result of an injury, an underlying condition or just general wear and tear.

In fact, in the UK back pain impacts around a third of the adult population every year. The condition is also the single largest cause of disability in the UK, with lower back pain accounting for 11% of the total disability of the UK population.

So understanding back pain is key. Having a confident knowledge in the condition will help you not only identify your pain, but treat it effectively and even prevent it from recurring. That’s why the team at Fornham Chiropractic Clinic are here with their complete guide to understanding and managing back pain.

What is back pain?

It goes without saying that back pain always involves some form of spinal discomfort, but the nature of this pain and the condition at the root of it can vary greatly from person to person.

Back pain can be a symptom of many different conditions, illnesses and lifestyle factors. The main cause of the pain is most likely to be an issue in or around the spine itself, but in some cases, it can be difficult for health professionals to determine a single cause for the discomfort.

Some of the most common causes of back pain include:

  • Stress or injury to the back muscles. This includes back sprain or strain, chronic overworking of the back muscles due to obesity, and short-term overworking of the back muscles due to factors like lifting or pregnancy.
  • Disease or injury involving the spinal vertebrae. This can include fractures from an accident or as a result of degenerative diseases like osteoporosis.
  • Wear and tear processes associated with ageing, genetic predisposition and arthritis.
  • Disease or injury to the spinal nerves, including protruding disks or spinal stenosis (a narrowing of the spinal canal).
  • Kidney stone or a kidney infection.

In rarer cases, back pain can occur as a result of inflammatory arthritis, infection, spinal tumour or cancer.

What could your symptoms mean?

Symptoms of back pain vary greatly. Some symptoms are often referred to as “red flag symptoms” as these suggest that the back pain may be occurring as part of a more serious condition. These red flag symptoms include fever, weight loss, numbness, weakness, incontinence and a history of cancer.

The symptoms that accompany back pain tend to point towards it cause. For example, in cases of back sprain or strain, pain typically begins the day of or after heavy exertion. Muscles in the back, buttocks and thighs are stiff and areas of the back will feel painful when touched or pressed.

For fibromyalgia, back pain is usually accompanied by other areas of pain and immobility such as in the neck, shoulders, knees and elbows. Pain tends to be at its worst first thing in the morning.

Back pain caused by arthritis is often accompanied by stiffness and immobility, which can form over many years. Meanwhile, back pain as a result of osteoporosis is often met with thinned, weakened bones which are quick to fracture, as well as distinct changes in posture.

Protruding or slipped disks often result in sharp, very sever back pain, while spinal stenosis results in pain, numbness and weakness in both the back and the legs.

How is your back pain diagnosed?

When you see a doctor about your back pain, they’ll ask you about your symptoms, your lifestyle habits and your medical history. They’ll also examine your back muscles and spine to check for any tenderness, weakness, stiffness, numbness or abnormal reflexes.

This may be enough for your doctor to be able to diagnose the issue, but in some cases further tests may be necessary, especially if your back pain has lasted longer than 12 weeks. These further tests may include:

  • X-rays
  • Blood tests
  • CT scans
  • Urine tests
  • MRI
  • Bone scans

How long does back pain last?

This depends largely on what is at the root of your back pain, as in most cases the pain begins to subside once the overall cause of the discomfort has been removed.

For example, back pain as a result of strain and overexertion generally heals over a period of days or weeks with rest and recuperation. Back pain caused by pregnancy improves after delivery, and back pain caused by obesity can improve with steady weight loss.

Back pain caused by infection often begins to improve within days of taking a course of prescribed antibiotics, and those with back pain caused by more serious issues with the vertebrae or nerves may find that their pain is more persistent.

How do you prevent back pain?

You may feel completely powerless when it comes to back pain, but there are things you can do to lessen your symptoms or even prevent pain from occurring in the first place. Firstly, you should avoid any activities which you think are contributing to your pain, at least until the pain has subsided.

You can also work on maintaining a good posture. Throughout the day, straighten your spine and roll back your shoulders, keeping your ears, shoulders and hips all aligned. You should also avoid sleeping on your stomach — as this can place strain on your neck and lower back — and instead try sleeping on your back with one pillow under your head and one under your knees. This is the best way to keep your spine aligned.

Make the time to exercise regularly, but be sure to maintain proper form when carrying out exercises and lifting weights. You should also take the time to warm up and cool down your body before and after exercising.

When you lift objects, be sure to do so from a squatting position, lifting with your legs rather than your back. This will put less strain on your spine. You should also avoid lifting, twisting and bending at the same time.

Try to avoid sitting for extended periods of time, especially slouching. This can be difficult if you have a job which requires you to sit at a desk, but it’s important to take regular breaks, walk around, and sit upright with your computer monitor at eye level.

How is back pain treated?

Like most aspects of back pain, treatment depends largely on what is causing your discomfort. For most episodes of back pain, rest and recuperation are key. Bed rest can help in the immediate aftermath, but it’s important not to become too immobile and to keep gently stretching and moving the area.

Painkillers and muscle relaxants, as well as hot and cold compresses, can also ease some of the pain while your back heals naturally.

Many people also find it helpful to visit a physiotherapist or chiropractor for targeted, tailored treatment which aims to tackle the source of the pain with expert spinal manipulation.

If your back pain is accompanied by more serious symptoms, such as weight loss, numbness or fever, then you should make an appointment with your GP to discuss your condition.

Published by Mohsin Ahsan