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Why does my back hurt?

Are you suffering from back pain and wondering why? Our video guide to common causes and treatments could give you the advice you need.

Consultant spinal surgeon Mr Matthew Newton Ede, from BMI The Priory Hospital and BMI The Edgbaston Hospital, shares his advice on some of the most common causes of back problems, ways you can manage your pain, and when it’s time to seek professional help.

Back pain is a very common complaint. Most people will find it improves within a few weeks or months.1

If you’re wondering what’s causing your back problems and whether you should seek help, or simply looking to ease your pain, our guide should answer your key questions.

What are the common causes of back pain?

Most of the time, back pain is not a sign of anything serious.

In fact, most back pain is classed as ‘non-specific’. It might be caused by moving or twisting your back in a particular way, or by lifting something heavy. It could be the result of poor posture or stress.

Sometimes your back will hurt and you won’t even know why. Try not to worry. Back pain will affect most people during their lifetime.

The good news is, non-specific back pain will normally improve within a few weeks.2

Are there more specific causes of back pain?

There are specific conditions that can cause back pain. These include:

  • A slipped disc – when cartilage from your spine presses on a nerve
  • Sciatica – when the nerve between your lower back and feet becomes irritated
  • Spondylolisthesis – when a bone in your spine slips out of position2

What can I do to relieve my back pain?

There are several things you can try at home to manage your back pain. These include:

1. Keep moving

If you’re in pain, you might worry that staying active will make it worse. But keeping up with your normal activities is one of the best things you can do for your back.

In fact, too much rest could even make your back worse.3

If you’re struggling, try taking some mild over-the-counter painkillers or anti-inflammatories. They can help you get back to day-to-day activities, including going to work.4

Speak to your GP or pharmacist for advice on the non-prescription painkillers that are best for you.

2. Hot and cold therapy

Some people find that heat can help ease their back pain. You may want to try a hot bath or a heat therapy pack.

Some people find that cooling the area helps too, for example with an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables.

Remember, don’t put the hot or cold item directly on your skin as you could hurt yourself. Place a cloth or blanket around it first.4

3. Back stretches

There are simple back exercises and stretches that you can do at home that could help ease your pain.

A physiotherapist will be able to guide you through helpful stretches and how often you should do them.

Strengthening the muscles in your back and improving your flexibility can help not only to reduce back pain but also to stop it coming back.3

4. Light exercise

Improving your general fitness could help your back. It’s also one of the most important things you can do to look after your health.5

Exercises that have shown to ease back pain include:

  • Swimming
  • Walking
  • Yoga
  • Pilates3

It’s important to choose an exercise that you are comfortable with and that you enjoy. This will make any fitness regime easier to stick to.

5. Relax

It’s thought that stress can be a cause of non-specific back pain, so try your best to relax and stay calm.2

Back pain in turn can be a cause of stress, making it doubly important to look after your mental wellbeing as well as the physical.

This can be as simple as spending time with loved ones or keeping up with a hobby. Meditation and mindfulness might help too.

If your back pain is consistently getting you down, it’s time to speak to a mental health professional.4

When should I seek help for back pain?

If your back pain doesn’t start to get better after a few weeks, speak to your GP or consultant.

They will consider both specific and non-specific causes as well as more serious medical issues that may be causing you pain.

Can back pain be a sign of something more serious?

Although most back pain is not a serious issue, there are more significant underlying causes in some cases.

These can include:

  • A broken bone in your spine
  • An infection
  • A more serious problem with your nerves
  • Cancer

These are all very rare causes of back pain.2

If you are at all worried about your back pain, speak to a specialist for reassurance. At BMI Healthcare, you could see a physiotherapist without the need for a GP referral.



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