What is back pain?
Many of us will experience back pain at some point in our lives. However, most cases of back pain will get better over time and won’t require surgery.
Often, back pain is a result of strains and minor injuries, rather than something more serious.
Although back pain is often nothing to worry about, it can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Not only can your normal daily activities become difficult, but if your symptoms persist for a long period of time, chronic pain can affect your mood too. With this is mind, it’s important to be aware that the earlier you begin treatment, including taking steps to help yourself, the quicker you can get back to enjoying life.
What are the symptoms of back pain?
Back pain differs from person to person. Common symptoms can be felt as a dull ache or, contrastingly, a sharp shooting pain, depending on the cause of the problem. Symptoms can also include muscular spasm and leg pain which is usually from sciatica. This can cause numbness, pins and needles or weakness in the leg.
Although rare, if you suffer with back pain or sciatica associated with the following, you should seek medical advice immediately:
- Difficulty Urinating
- Loss of control of your bladder and bowel
- Numbness around your saddle area (around genitals and buttocks)
- Weakness in both legs or unsteadiness on your feet
- Severe unremitting pain that gets worse over time
What are the common causes of back pain?
It’s very difficult to attribute back pain to one specific cause. Sometimes it can be a result of simply ‘overdoing it’ or lifting incorrectly which can cause muscle or ligament injuries. Other times, it can occur as part of the aging process or from degenerative conditions, such as arthritis, which is more common in older patients. The stiffness associated with arthritis can reduce the movement of your spine and may cause you to experience pain.
Having poor posture whilst sitting in front of a computer or driving for long hours can also be the cause for back pain. The structure of the spine isn't designed to sit for hours in a seated position, especially if you hold yourself in an awkward or slouched position.
There are some things you can do to help prevent back pain, such as improving your posture and range of movement, as well as adjusting the way you sit. However, the most effective way to prevent back pain is to maintain a good level of exercise.
There are also specific conditions which can cause back pain. These include:
- Herniated cervical disc - this develops when a disc between the vertebrae breaks down and the back part of the disc becomes weak. The disc then pushes against the nerves or against the spinal cord.
- Sciatica – this is felt as a pain down your leg which is causes from pressure on a nerve where it leaves your spine. Sciatica can occur when a disc in your spine becomes worn and develops a bulge (a 'slipped disc').
- Spinal stenosis –where the space in the centre of the spine (spinal canal) narrows. The nerves become trapped in the spinal canal or where they leave the spine, which can cause weakness or pain in your legs.
- Scoliosis - an abnormal sideways curvature of the spine. The spinal column (backbone) and twists causing the ribcage to rotate.
How to manage back pain
The good news is that many back problems won’t require surgery. Undergoing an operation for back pain is not something to be taken lightly and should only be considered if the root cause of your pain has been identified.
However, if your symptoms aren’t improving, then it’s best to get a diagnosis from a physiotherapist. Not only can they help you to manage your pain, but our physiotherapists can also refer you on to a consultant, if needed.
Getting a firm diagnosis can not only help to resolve your issue, but can help you return to your normal activities as soon as possible.