If you’ve had, or are currently experiencing back pain, you’re not alone! Almost everyone in their lifetime, approximately 80% of the population, will experience back pain in one way or another. It’s one of the most common reasons why people come to see a Physiotherapist or an Exercise Physiologist. Fortunately, the majority of cases are not serious. Everyone’s experience with back pain is different. Whether mild or severe, short-term or long-term, it can greatly impact your daily life. If it becomes long term, it can almost seem impossible to remember your life before back pain.
There can be many causes of lumbar pain. Your Physiotherapist can help you identify the cause and develop a treatment plan to help you return to daily life pain-free. Low back pain can often resolve by itself. In other cases, many people find that their pain improves with physio treatment and advice.
Categorising Your Pain
Low back pain can be uniquely complex and sometimes difficult to diagnose and treat. There are many types of back pain and treatment methods that may or may not work for the same condition. To determine your diagnosis, your Physiotherapist will ask you to describe your pain, the area in which the pain distributes and any other symptoms that have begun since the onset of your discomfort. Generally, we can classify back pain into three categories; mechanical, radicular and referred pain.
Mechanical pain is the most common type of low back pain. It can be caused by placing unusual stress and strain on the muscles of the vertebral column. This type of pain tends to feel worse when performing certain activities or sports. It can also flare up when sitting or standing for long periods of time.
It’s generally a result of inflammation and is a consequence of irritation or injury to the spine. Irritation in the following areas contribute to mechanical pain:
- Intervertebral discs (such as a tear, degeneration or prolapse)
- Facet joints
- Ligaments or muscles
- Result of spondylolisthesis
- Less common, but other causes can be fractures, dislocations, tumours and infections.
Radicular pain is also known as nerve root pain. It occurs when a spinal nerve root becomes compressed, pinched or inflamed. It’s a disorder that causes pain in the lower back and sometimes hips that then radiates down the leg. It’s described as a shooting, burning, electric-shock type of pain. It can occur in any part of the spine, but most often in the lower back and neck.
Referred pain is when your body causes you pain in a different area of your body as a result of pain or injury in another area. Essentially, the pain is travelling down your nerves. You may know where you’re feeling discomfort, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the source of your pain. Referred pain can arise from any structure that contains a nerve supply. Such as inside the disc, facet joint or muscles.
It’s also possible for low back pain to develop from no definitive cause. Correct diagnosis of your pain is crucial to recovery as treatment for each type of pain varies considerably.
Types of Conditions
As you’re now aware, lower back pain comes in many different forms and intensities. Ranging from a dull, constant ache to a sudden, sharp and shooting pain. Pain can become worse when you bend, twist, lift or stand and walk for long periods. We can differentiate pain into two conditions.
Acute pain is usually considered short-term pain that lasts from a few days to a few weeks. This type of pain usually comes on suddenly from an injury. Most people who recover from acute low back pain do so with no residual loss of function.
In contrast, chronic pain is when someone is experiencing pain that continues for 12 weeks or longer. Acute pain can turn into chronic pain even after an acute condition has been treated. 20% of acute low back pain sufferers will develop into a chronic condition.
When Should I See Someone About My Pain?
How do you know when it’s time to consult an expert for advice? Some people will suffer through weeks, even months, of pain before seeking help. Believe us when we tell you it’s not worth waiting to see if it will get better on its own. One of the worst things you can do when suffering from an acute back injury is to stay in bed and become inactive. This weakens the muscles supporting the structure of your spine and can lead to a cycle of continued pain. Many cases of lumbar pain can be resolved with minimal treatment. Here are some indications that it’s time to book an appointment to see your Physiotherapist.
- You’re experiencing pain that persists past a few weeks
- Your pain is severe and doesn’t improve with rest
- Your pain is stopping you from being able to perform physical activity or everyday movements
- You’re experiencing pain down one or both of your legs
- Your pain causes weakness, numbness or tingling in the legs
It’s well-known that age is a typical lower back pain offender. The first ‘attack’ of low back pain typically occurs between the ages of 30 to 50 and usually advances with age. Osteoarthritis is a common form of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage that cushions the ends of your bones wears down. This can occur in the intervertebral discs in your back. Although this isn’t entirely preventable, there are other factors contributing to low back pain such as:
Back pain is more common among people who are not physically active. Lack of muscles in the back and abdominal area will not be able to properly support the spine. Those who only exercise on the weekends are also more likely to experience back pain compared to those that exercise regularly throughout the week. Maintaining a healthy body weight will also reduce your chances of back pain. As it reduces the amount of stress on the lower back.
One of the biggest causes of back injury in the workplace is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. Especially those in jobs that require heavy lifting, pushing or pulling. Learning and following the correct method for handling heavy or awkward objects can help to prevent injury. One of the biggest things to remember is to know your limits. If you’re an office employee working at a desk all day this may be contributing to your low back pain. Poor posture and sitting in a chair with not enough support are common culprits.
Lower Back Sports Injuries
When you step out onto the court, field or into the gym, you run the risk of suffering some type of injury. Low back injuries can vary depending on the sport. They often come about from repetitive overuse when twisting, compressing or flexing. Low back sprains happen from trying to lift too much weight at the gym or using incorrect technique. In sports that demand repetitive extension movements, think of volleyball, diving, gymnastics, cheerleading and dancing, spine stress fractures are fairly common. Additionally, high impact sports like running, football and tennis can cause low back pain and injury.
During physical activity, sitting at a desk for too long, or simply working around the house or garden, there is always a risk of injury. There are some simple measures you can take to help prevent your risk of a back injury:
- Strengthen your core and back muscles
- Warm-up and stretch before exercise
- Make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep
- Maintain a healthy body weight and exercise regularly
If you’re experiencing back pain that won’t improve or is getting worse, don’t suffer any longer. It’s better to be safe than sorry. Book an appointment with one of our Physiotherapists now. You can book through our online booking system here, or by calling our reception team on 07 3891 2000.