12 million patients a year visit their GPs for low back pain…
Acute or short term back pain generally lasts from a few days to a few weeks. Most acute back pain is mechanical in nature — the result of trauma to the lower back. Pain from trauma may be caused by a sports injury, work around the house or in the garden, or a sudden jolt such as a car accident or other stress on spinal bones and tissues. Symptoms may range from muscle ache to shooting or stabbing pain, limited flexibility and/or range of motion, or an inability to stand straight.
Occasionally, pain felt in one part of the body may “radiate” from a disorder or injury elsewhere in the body. Some acute pain syndromes can become more serious if left untreated. Chronic back pain is measured by duration — pain that persists for more than 3 months is considered chronic. It is often progressive and the cause can be difficult to determine.
What causes low back pain?
As we age, bone strength and muscle elasticity and tone decreases. The discs begin to lose fluid and flexibility, which decreases their ability to cushion the vertebrae.
Pain can occur when, for example, someone lifts something too heavy or overstretches, causing a sprain, strain, or spasm in the back muscles and/or ligaments. If the spine becomes overly strained or compressed, a disc may rupture or bulge outward. This rupture may put pressure on one of the spinal nerves. Back pain results when these nerve roots become compressed or irritated.
Most low back pain follows injury or trauma to the back, but pain may also be caused by degenerative conditions such as arthritis or disc disease, osteoporosis or other bone diseases, viral infections, irritation to joints and discs, or congenital abnormalities of the spine. Also, scar tissue created when the injured back heals itself does not have the strength or flexibility of normal tissue. Build-up of scar tissue from repeated injuries eventually weakens the back and can lead to more serious injury.
Occasionally, low back pain may indicate a more serious medical problem. Pain accompanied by fever or loss of bowel or bladder control, pain when coughing, and progressive weakness in the legs may indicate a pinched nerve or other serious condition.
If you have low back pain that has lasted more than a few days or is severe in nature, you should get assessed by a qualified therapist who will advise you on the likely cause. Treatment may include joint mobilisations, gentle massage to alleviate any muscle spasm and a spinal rehabilitation programme comprising core stability and aerobic fitness exercises.
TENS treatment is available both in clinic and as a mobile service.
If you’ve had low back problems in the past, check out this guide to help strengthen your back. And every day tasks to take care of your back can be found here.