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Low Back Pain - Hints and Tips

10th February, 2012

For our first health post, we are going to tackle the main complaint that we as clinicians see walking through our door... low back pain.

What have I done?

Low back pain is a common problem. Roughly 60-80% of people will suffer from it at some point in their lives. Back pain can be felt at any age, but it's most common in people between 35 and 55 years old.

Back pain has many causes, from muscle strains to more serious conditions such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, spondylolisthesis, osteoporosis or tumour, so it is important to find out what is causing the back pain.

Here are just a few details of the causes of low back pain:

  • Sometimes low back pain is caused by muscle strains or pulls and may only last a couple of days to a few weeks. Typically, the causes are over-exertion during sports or other physical activities.
  • Twisting and lifting injuries would usually strain or irritate the joints and its surrounding tissues which can in turn make the muscles spasm. Muscle spasms are the body’s protective mechanism in response to an injury. In hindsight, it can create problems for the injury to heal. The muscle 'grabs' uncontrollably and so tightly that movement is limited and painful, and can upset the functioning of the body as a whole.
  • Degeneration of the spine can mean wear and tear of the discs, and/or the facet joints. Degenerative disc disease causes the spaces between the vertebrae of the spine to approximate, causing limited movement. It is estimated that at least 30% of people aged 30-50 years old will have some degree of disc space degeneration, although not all will have pain or ever receive a formal diagnosis.
  • Disc prolapses (or slipped discs) can often occur during bending or lifting activities. With this injury the cartilage disc between the vertebrae protrudes, causing severe, sudden pain as it touches nearby nerves and inflammation builds up. The size of a disc prolapse can vary. As a rule, the larger the prolapse the more severe the symptoms are likely to be. If the disc traps or compresses the surrounding nerves then pain, pins and needles or numbness will be felt along the course of those nerves. Therefore, you may feel pain down the leg to the calf or foot.
  • A very rare but serious complication of a disc prolapse is a type of nerve root problem called Cauda Equina Syndrome. This is where the nerves at the bottom of the spinal cord are compressed. As a result, it can cause low back pain as well as problems with bowel and bladder function, numbness in the 'saddle' area (around the anus) and weakness in one or both legs. This is a serious condition and needs urgent treatment to preserve the nerves from being permanently damaged. If these symptoms develop, seek immediate attention from your doctor or a hospital.
  • Non-specific low back pain is defined as persistent or recurrent that lasts for more than 6 weeks but less than 12 months. The specific cause may not be identified, but several structures in the back may contribute to the problem.

For further medical advice, please contact your GP.

For an assessment or treatment from one of our manual therapists or musculoskeletal doctors, please make an appointment via our Contact Us page. Alternatively, call us on 01908 604 666.

Don't miss next week's post: What manual therapy can do for your low back pain.

Contributing Author:

Shelley Doole DC MChiro

"Low back pain fact sheet." national institute of neurological disorders and stroke. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.
"Non-specific lower back pain in adults." Health information and guidelines, Web. 12 Jan. 2012.
"Causes and effects of back pain." BBC - Health. Web. 12 Jan. 2012.
"Low back pain: Early management of persistent non-specific low back pain ." National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. Web. 10 Jan. 2012.