Back Pain

Practical Back Pain Advice

Back pain is a very common problem which will affect most people during their life.

Back pain can be caused by a trigger event - improper heavy lifting, bad posture, or bending badly, and usually begins as a tense, stiff feeling in the back.

Back pain can affect the shoulders, middle of the spine, or the lower back. Lower back pain is often referred to as lumbago, and accounts for more than 90% of back pains.

Common Symptoms Of Back Pain

Most back pain occurs in the lower back. Known as lumbago, this is often characterised by pain, difficulty moving, stiffness and tension. Back pain often worsens 24 hours after the initial 'twinge', and may take up to 12 weeks to recede.

Triggers for back pain can vary - it could be caused by over-exertion, sitting incorrectly for long periods, twisting, or just appear for no apparent reason.

As well as lumbago, there are other types of back pain which have different symptoms:

  • Sciatica typically causes pain in the lower back which moves down one or both of the legs. 
  • Back pain coupled with swollen joints may be indicative of ankylosing spondylitis. 
  • Overall joint pain, including back pain, may suggest arthritis.
  • Shoulder-specific back pain, which can make it uncomfortable to sleep, is known as 'frozen shoulder'.

Sometimes, back pain may indicate a greater problem - often when combined with other symptoms. If you are suffering back pain, along with a high temperature or fever, sudden weight loss, swelling, a loss of bladder control, pain below the knees, or numbness around the buttocks, these are classed as 'red flag signs' and you should consult a doctor.

Practical Back Pain Treatments

Back pain can be treated, but the course of action will depend on the severity of your symptoms.

Most lumbago problems and lower back pain can be treated with painkillers or anti-inflammatory tablets. While paracetamol is an option, ibuprofen is often a popular alternative, as this can reduce muscular pain. Changing your sleeping position can also help - if you sleep on your back, put a pillow under your knees. If you sleep on your side, place a cushion between your knees, and sleep with them raised towards your chest.

Those suffering back pain are now often advised to keep moving as much as possible. The temptation to lie in bed to recover may be great, especially with painful mobility - but people who stay active during bouts of back pain actually recover faster than those who are voluntarily immobile.

As well as making changes to your lifestyle, a range of products are available which can help you deal with back pain, such as lumbar supports, which help increase lower back stability.

Hot and cold treatments can bring temporary relief from back pain too. Heat pads, heat patches or heat wraps can be applied directly to the skin. These help ease muscle tension to increase mobility and decrease pain. Cold treatments include sprays, which freeze and numb the painful area.

Back pain which lasts longer than six weeks is deemed 'chronic', and you should seek medical advice.