Keep your eyes peeled for the new edition of SA2 Times magazine – back pain in the media! We have written some advice on that old nemesis back pain, how to avoid it and self care for everyone over the summer.

The rise of the summer pain in the back!

Summer (if you want to call it that!) sees a surge in many things – ice cream sales, bad tan lines and trips to the beach. However all these hallmarks of the great British summertime can become overshadowed by an increase in something that affects 1 in 5 people in the UK – back pain.

Many patients in my clinic have come to see me barely able to walk from tasks such as spending a day gardening, to simple household chores like putting the clothes in the washing machine. So, whether you’re young or old, super fit or a couch potato, here is a break down of a condition that can affect all of us!

What is low back pain?

Low back pain is defined as pain situated between the lower ribs and buttocks and can affect one/both sides of the back or be central. In most cases, the pain will improve over the course of several weeks although some people can experience back pain longer-term.

Causes of low back pain

There are many causes of low back pain but here are the most common:

Mechanical

  • Disc – the kidney bean shaped bits in between your vertebrae (spine) which contain a substance like toothpaste (the nucleus). The rings of the disc (annulus) are like an onion, criss-crossing for strength yet if these forces are disrupted and the nucleus leaks, the nerves either side of your spine can become irritated.
  • Facet joints – the joints either side of your spine which are protected by a joint capsule/cartilage and can be disrupted by degenerative changes, trauma etc.
  • Ligament – strong, fibrous tissue bands that attach bone to bone.
  • Muscle/tendon – there are many muscles in your lower back area that can become strained/spasm and cause pain.

Non-mechanical

  • Referred visceral – e.g. can be referred from organs including gynaecological, bowel and kidney problems.
  • Inflammatory – e.g. ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic condition where the spine and other areas can become inflamed and stiff.
  • Neoplastic – e.g. referred pain from a tumour or abnormal growth of tissue. Common sites of back pain referral include spinal, prostate and bowel cancer.

Symptoms of mechanical low back pain

  • Dull ache/sharp stabbing pain which may radiate into the groin, buttocks and legs
  • Numbness/pins & needles/’dead leg’ feeling
    Difficulty moving, standing up straight or bending forward
  • Muscle spasms
  • Stiffness
  • Treatment of back pain

The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines recommend the following for early management of low back pain:

  • Stay as active as you can with gentle movement if possible
  • See your local manual therapist e.g. osteopath/physiotherapist for treatment such as spinal mobilisation, manipulation, soft tissue work and acupuncture
  • Regular paracetamol and anti-inflammatory use (check with your pharmacist/GP that you are able to take these first)

When to see your GP

  • Changes in bladder or bowel symptoms – increase/decrease in frequency of passing stools/urination
  • Numbness in the groin/saddle (where you sit) area
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever, feeling generally unwell, severe fatigue
    For more information please visit http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Back-pain/Pages/Introduction.aspx

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