Suffering from a sore back? You are not alone. More than 80 per cent of adults in the UK will experience lower lumbago at some point in their life. But with the right support, you can learn to manage and overcome back pain.
We speak to Lyndsay Hirst, Chartered Physiotherapist at yourpilatesphysio.com, about lower back pain causes and effective treatment tips:
What is lumbago?
Lower back pain (also known as lumbago) is one of the common health complaints, accounts for the majority of sick days, and can take a huge psychological toll on sufferers.
The pain can be mild discomfort, acute (sudden and severe) or chronic if it lasts for more than three months. It can occur at any age but typically targets people with physical jobs and the elderly.
The good news is, in most cases lower back pain settles in a few weeks and is rarely due to anything more serious, but for some it can be a persistent problem that monopolises your entire life.
How can I treat lower back pain?
If you experience pain in your lower back, spine or buttocks, then the chances are you have lower back pain. Because there are a number of different causes, there is no single way to treat lower back pain that suits everyone, but there are a few simple at-home remedies you can try.
‘The majority of back pain can be treated at home with gentle stretches, heat and anti-inflammatory medication,’ says Hirst. ‘Don't stay in one position too long, as movement is essential to improve the problem.’
‘Initial treatment would consist of movement and stretches of the lower back,’ adds Hirst. ‘It is important to keep moving, manual therapy (including joint mobilisation and soft tissue release) and acupuncture can also be effective, heat can ease muscle spasm and posture support such as a lumbar roll or a small cushion in the lower back can help.’
Managing lower back pain
If you are suffering from lower back pain, the following can help you manage the pain:
• Stay active
Carry on with your life within the limits of your pain. This helps to keep the muscles that support the spine strong and prevents scar tissue from forming and causing stiffness.
• Use painkillers
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and muscle relaxants should relieve moderate pain. Some people prefer paracetamol, or a combination of paracetamol and codeine painkillers. Your GP may also prescribe diazepam to relax the muscles. Painkillers should be taken as a course, not just when pain becomes intolerable.
• Employ heat
Try a hot pack, heat creams, or a hot water bottle, or go swimming in a warm pool to ease the pain.
• Get plenty of rest
Sleep repairs and rebalances the body both mentally and physically, so get plenty of rest. Sleep lying on a firm, flat surface, if possible.
• Practice good posture
Avoid stooping, bending, lifting or sitting on low chairs. If you experience neck pain while at work, ask for an ergonomic assessment of your workstation.
• Book a massage
Regular massage therapy can provide healing and pain relief for muscle tension and strain.
• Stay positive
Bear in mind that backaches are rarely caused by a serious illness and usually settle in a few weeks.
• Do your research
There are a number of resources available for managing back pain. A new app by digital health company Kaia Health has recently been developed to help sufferers self-manage their pain. Or try a Lumbar Brace to ease the discomfort.
Do I have chronic lower back pain?
If your symptoms persist for more three months, then you may be suffering from chronic lower back pain. Consult your GP, who may suggest an X-ray or another type of scan. National recommendations advise that patients with persistent low back pain should be offered the following treatment options:
★ Back exercises
This is a structured exercise programme, which should be tailored to the person and comprise of up to a maximum of eight sessions over a period of up to 12 weeks.
★ Manual therapy
Acupuncture practice is safe, natural and relatively free of side-effects.
What causes lower back pain?
There are many triggers for lower back pain so it can be difficult to establish the exact cause. If your doctor cannot identify the reason for your discomfort, it is commonly referred to as ‘non-specific’ back pain, and you will be advised to keep active and carry out normal activities as much as possible.
Over-the-counter medication can help you manage the discomfort, and in most cases, the pain will disappear within six weeks.
Occasionally back pain can be due to a specific medical condition. Hirst outlines the most common back complaints:
⚈ Disc related - either herniation or degenerative disc.
⚈ Facet joint - this would usually cause pain on one side of the lower back.
⚈ Muscular - again usually tends to be one sided.
⚈ Pelvic or sacral dysfunction - would cause either central low back pain or pain on one side of the lower back, but may come back (recur) from time to time.
⚈ Persistent (chronic) - pain develops in some cases and further treatment may then be needed.
⚠️ These conditions can cause additional symptoms – such as numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation – and they're treated differently to non-specific back pain. Visit your GP if you are concerned.
What are the danger signs?
If your symptoms persist or worsen, Hirst advises to look out for the following red flags:
- Saddle anaesthesia - numbness in the saddle area.
- Urinary retention - needing the toilet but not being able to go.
- Bilateral pins and needles/pain in both legs.
- Drop foot/altered gait pattern.
If any of these symptoms are present, visit accident and emergency (A&E) immediately.
Last updated: 07-10-19