Back pain is extremely common and can be a real bane.
Back pain is extremely common and can be a real bane. Lower back pain - also known medically as ‘lumbago’ - is one of the most common reasons why people visit the doctor in the UK.
Fortunately, in the vast majority of cases, back pain isn’t triggered by anything serious and will usually improve with time, and there are lots of measure people can take to prevent or relieve symptoms.
There are sometimes occasions, though, when back pain can be a sign of an underlying cause that needs closer attention and management.
So, what are some of the warning signs and what should you do if you’re experiencing symptoms?
Here, experts explain more...
Why does lower back pain happen?
Three main causes of back pain are force, repetition and inactivity. Heavy lifting can lead to muscle or ligament strain resulting in painful muscle spasms, as can repetitive movements such as twisting or bending the spine. Similarly, bad posture and sitting for long periods of time can have ill-effect.”
Simple things like incorrect or poor computer positioning and chair height (while working at a desk, for example) can lead to back pain - and if you are faced with these conditions five days a week, you may notice your back pain becoming an ongoing issue.
What are the symptoms?
Pain, including a dull ache, burning sensations, or sharp shooting or ‘pulling’ pain. While it’s very rarely dangerous, there are signs that there may be something more serious going on - like nerve compression/irritation or damage. So how do you know if this might be the case?
Dr Sarah Brewer, medical director at Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk), says: “Telltale signs include weakness or numbness in one or both legs, severe pain causing immobility, pains shooting down the leg, difficulty with bladder and bowel control or pins and needles at the base of the spine or lower legs.”
If any of these symptoms occur, Brewer advises that you tell your doctor straight away. If your symptoms occur following a traumatic injury, it’s also vital to get things checked as quickly as possible, just to be on the safe side.
In some cases, lower back pain may also be associated with arthritis (ongoing stiffness in the morning can be a warning sign here), or other medical problems within the joints or spine. Any pain that’s severe, ongoing, getting worse and affecting your mobility should be checked out by the doc.
What can I do to relieve back pain?
The best way to manage back pain is to stay active, and in some cases painkillers may help, rather than bed rest. Regular low-impact activities such as walking or swimming can increase strength and build up endurance in your back.
Herbal remedies like Devil’s Claw JointAid Tablets (£16.95 for 60 tablets, healthspan.co.uk),can relieve back pain.
Or try a St Paul’s Wort supplement - a Chinese medicine from the plant Sigesbeckia orientalis, which has been used for thousands of years to treat rheumatic conditions such as backache and joint pains.
Lifestyle changes might help too, such as taking positive steps to avoid and manage stress (which is a key factor in many types of pain), maintaining a healthy weight or taking sensible steps to lose excess weight, and making efforts to improve your sitting and standing posture.
Sleep on a comfortable mattress, using just one pillow and wearing flat shoes.
If the pain doesn’t subside within a couple of weeks, is getting worse or not responding to self-management or over-the-counter painkillers, visit your GP and/or check in with a physiotherapist.