Back pain

Doctor checks and massages patient with back pain

What is back pain?

Pain in the back is fairly common and usually goes away after a matter of weeks or months. Individuals can experience pain in any part of the back, from the coccyx at the bottom of the spine to the neck. The most common complaint is low back pain (also known as lumbago).

What are the causes of back pain?

Back pain can occur as the result of:

In the case of the latter three, there are usually further symptoms, such as tingling, numbness, or weakness.

Other causes of back pain are rarely serious and in many cases the cause is not clear (non-specific back pain). Non-specific back pain usually clears up on its own with time.

Can back pain be prevented?

It is impossible to prevent back pain with 100% certainty, but it is possible to reduce the risk of developing pain from musculoskeletal injuries:

  • Perform back stretches and exercises regularly
  • General exercise – it is recommended that adults do 150 minutes of exercise each week.
  • Don’t sit in one position for long periods at work or while driving.
  • Maintain a good posture while sitting
  • Take care while lifting
  • Make sure you sleep on a supportive mattress
  • Lose weight if you are overweight.

Back pain relief

In most cases, taking the following measures can provide some relief from back pain:

  • Keep active – it is important to try to go about your daily activities as normal. Too much resting in one position can actually make your back pain worse.
  • Perform back stretches and exercises.
  • Engage in activities such as swimming, walking, yoga, and pilates.
  • Apply heat or cold – compresses, hot water bottles, or a bag of frozen peas can all provide short-term relief.
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers, e.g. ibuprofen.
  • Stay positive – there may be some truth in mind-over-matter, since people who stay optimistic seem to recover quicker on average. Remember that the odds are the pain will disappear with time.

Back pain treatment

You should seek medical advice for back pain if it:

  • Persists longer than a few weeks
  • Is particularly intense
  • Gets worse with time rather than improving
  • Affects your daily activities

You GP should be your first point of call. They may refer you to a specialist or to a physiotherapist if necessary.

Treatment for back pain may include:

  • Group exercise classes to strengthen back muscles and improve posture
  • Manual therapy, e.g. massage
  • Psychological therapy, e.g. CBT

Which type of specialist treats back pain?

Depending on the cause of the back pain, a number of specialists may be involved in treating back pain, including neurosurgeons, orthopaedic surgeons, and rheumatologists.

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