Low Back Pain – what to do?

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Low back pain is the most common things we treat as Physios and here at SquareOne.

We are experts in assessing and treating back pain and Physios are the most qualified and evidence based profession to address this.

Here are a few quick facts about acute low back pain:

The lower back is the region of the body where the lumbar spine is located. The lumbar spine is the bottom section of the spine and consists of five bones (vertebrae). Between these vertebrae are structures called discs which act as shock absorbers.

There are countless muscles acting on the lumbar spine and a number of strong ligaments which provide the spine with stability. Many of these structures can be involved when you experience acute low back pain. Lower back pain can unfortunately happen to anyone at any time. Around 70% of Australian adults will experience lower back pain at some point during their life.

Unfortunately back pain has a very high recurrence rate – that is – it often comes back.

What causes back pain?

Acute low back pain can be caused by many factors such as:

  • trauma or accident  (fall, car accident, lifting)
  • postural issues
  • changes in the structures as we age
  • existing medical conditions (things we were born with)
  • rheumatological conditions

Occasionally it can be caused by more sinister medical issues which can be picked up in an examination.

Injuries can happen when you do something new, different or strenuous, such as lifting heavy items or playing a new sport. The pain may also occur because of a build-up of stress on the back (such as long periods in a bad sitting position) that gradually turns into an injury.

Although serious causes of back pain are rare, it is important that you have your condition assessed by a qualified Physiotherapist or Doctor. This is particularly important if your back pain is associated with other symptoms like fever, unexplained weight loss, pins and needles or numbness, or if your pain was caused by a high velocity trauma such as a car or sporting accident.

What should you do?

At the first sign of back pain, there are a few simple things you can do to provide short term relief and give your back the best chance of settling it down quickly.

  • Stay active: It may be tempting to stay in bed, it is important to keep moving as much as you comfortably can. By doing this, you can prevent stiffness and relieve muscle spasms. Your physiotherapist can prescribe a gentle exercise program tailored to suit your condition if you are not sure what to do. They can also gradually progress your exercises to help you return to normal function as soon as possible.
  • Use heat: Heat has been shown to improve pain and function during the first 48 hours of back pain. E.g.heat wheat bags and hot water bottles.
  • Find comfortable positions: Although you should remain as active as possible during the early stages of back pain, there are times when you need to be lying or sitting down. Find positions that allow you the most comfort, especially when sleeping. Using a pillow under the knees when lying on your back and between your knees when lying on your side can offer support and relief from pain. When sitting ensure your lower back is supported. You can use a rolled up towel placed in the small arch of your back. This will help provide support and may relieve the pain.
  • Stay positive: Back pain is a distressing and disabling condition, but it is important to remember that you will get better. With proper treatment you should regain normal, pain-free movement as well as improving the strength of the key supporting muscles that surround your spine. Most back pain will get better!

How your physio can help

It is important to consult your Physio as soon as possible to assist with pain relief and improve movement. Physiotherapists are experts in the assessment of musculoskeletal injuries, especially back pain. They will provide a thorough examination to ascertain the structures responsible for your pain. We can also give you a better understanding of the cause of pain and know which management techniques will get you better and out of pain quicker.

Some treatment options may include:

  • joint mobilisation
  • massage
  • stretching
  • strengthening exercises
  • taping
  • advice on recommended positions and postures at home and work.

Treatment of the underlying cause will not only resolve your back pain, but prevent it from coming back again. Treating back pain that is caused by a disc in the back is very different to treating back pain that comes front stress fracture. Not all back pain is the same and it’s important to know where yours is coming from.

With 2/3 of back pain suffers experiencing another episode of back pain within 4 months it’s important to address those factors that has chased it and have some longer term strategies in place. Exercise, such a Physio-led Pilates, has been shown to reduce not only back pain but also reduce this recurrence rate.

If you’re suffering from back pain, don’t delay! The earlier you see your Physio the quicker they can help get your back pain under control and get you back to work, sport and life.

Move Better – Feel Better – Embrace Life

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