Back pain is probably the most common form of all chronic pain. Over 80% of adults experience lower back pain at some time during their life and its notorious difficult to treat.
The reason why so many of us succumb is because our lower backs take all the strain by supporting most of our body weight.
All kinds of daily activities put us at risk of backache including standing or sitting for extended periods of time, wearing high heels or lifting objects incorrectly.
Up to half of pregnant women experience some lower back pain and people who are obese are at greater risk too.
If the pain is only short-term it is termed ‘acute’ if it lasts longer than three months it is known as ‘chronic’.
What causes back pain?
Pinpointing the root-cause of lower back pain is tricky. Culprits can include poor muscle tone, joint problems, torn muscles or ligaments, a herniated or slipped disc (a rapture of a disc in the spine) or even a tumour or infection (although these last two are rare).
Many people with low back pain recover without seeing a doctor or receiving treatment. Up to 90% recuperate within three to four weeks, though recurrences are common.
How is back pain treated?
Backache is notoriously stubborn to treat - usually because it’s not always possible to identify the exact cause of the pain.
Where it’s possible - for example if a slipped disc has been identified - then treatment generally involves a combination of physiotherapy and pain-relieving medication. Surgery may be considered to release the compressed nerve and remove part of the disc if the problem is severe.
But for most people backache is treated with painkillers, muscle relaxants, hot packs and non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen that relieve pain and help decrease inflammation.
If the backache refuses to shift then a consultation with an osteopath, chiropractor or physiotherapist may be beneficial. They can manipulate the back accordingly and recommend targeted exercises, stretches and ways of improving posture.
Sometimes an epidural steroid injection is offered for ongoing pain but the effectiveness is debatable. Other options can include use of a TENS machine or referral to a pain clinic to discuss ways of managing ongoing pain.
Alternative Remedies & Self-help
- Lose weight - too much upper body weight puts pressure on the lower back. Exercise and a healthy diet can help with this. Keeping active, for example by walking or swimming, is good for the back generally.
- Wear flat shoes with cushioned soles to reduce pressure on your back.
- Try relaxation methods such as yoga - as stress tends to exacerbate back pain.