Managing back pain
How long does back pain last?
The most common fear following a spinal injury or when suffering an onset of back pain is that the injury will cause permanent disability. However, much like musculoskeletal injuries throughout other areas of the body, with the right treatment back pain should very rarely cause a longer term problem.
Generally, initial healing times for injuries are four to six weeks but injured tissues may take as long as six months to reach their full strength. When suffering with back pain the most important factors in preventing long-term disability is the appropriate use of painkilling medications which allow an individual to continue to move the spine normally.
In recent years it has been demonstrated that continuing with normal social and occupational activities in spite of suffering with back pain may reduce disability in the long term. If you are recovering from spinal surgery or a significant spinal injury, quitting smoking will also enhance recovery if applicable.
For individuals who are very concerned, feel depressed as a result of a spinal injury or back pain or who do not seem to be recovering from an episode of back pain after a few weeks it is sensible to seek advice from a qualified clinician.
Physiotherapy treatments for back pain
Although exercises will form an important part of back pain treatment, in some cases physiotherapists may use other treatment modalities to help relieve pain and improve underlying biomechanical faults.
In cases of acute pain, physiotherapists are able to provide advice regarding appropriate pain-relieving positions. In cases when severe muscle spasm may be contributing to the pain, physiotherapists may be able to reduce this spasm with manual techniques to the muscle groups affected. These techniques are often referred to as myofascial release techniques.
In persistent cases of back pain, myofascial release techniques may also be utilised to help improve muscle flexibility in conjunction with stretches. When the spinal joints themselves are affected with stiffness and need to be released, physiotherapists may use joint manipulation and mobilisation techniques to release the joints. Another common technique, termed trigger point release which involves directing intense pressure on tight areas if the muscle belly may be a useful way of reducing overactive muscle tone.
A less common form of joint and muscle stiffness which can emerge with spinal disorders may be due to tension within the neural tissue itself. This can occur due to a current or previous nerve root compression or a whiplash type injury. Physiotherapists may employ neural gliding techniques to treat this problem.
What is pain management and how does it help back pain?
Pain management departments provide a number of treatments for back pain which can be generally split in to interventions to relieve pain and interventions to help sufferers of persistent back pain cope with their existing pain levels more effectively.
Interventions to reduce back pain may involve a number of spinal injections. These may include epidural injections which delivers a powerful anti-inflammatory medicine in to the spinal canal to bathe all of the joints, soft tissue structures and nerves. More targeted injections include guided injections in to the facet joints or guided injections to block nerve root pain. In some circumstances where individuals may have got significant relief from a facet joint injection but the pain has returned a pain clinic may offer a facet joint ablation procedure achieved by heating the nerves which supply the pain signals to the relevant joints.
Get in touch
Circle has a dedicated team of back specialists and pain management consultants who can help you. Simply fill out the form on this page and one of the team will get in touch.
There are some simple strategies you can use to manage your symptoms.
- Keep moving & exercise. Remain active as much as possible even if you are uncomfortable. This won’t harm your back and you can expect to get better more quickly. Stay positive and keep going out to do the things that you enjoy if at all possible.
- Most exercise is good exercise. Walking is particularly helpful, back exercises, more general exercise such as pilates or swimming can be helpful.
Things to try at home:
- Heat and cold – A hot bath or hot water bottle (cover the water bottle with a tea towel to prevent against burns) can ease pain from tense muscles, whilst cold from an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas (wrap in a cloth to prevent against ice burns and apply to the painful area) can help relieve discomfort from sudden back pain.
- Posture – Try to vary your posture regularly. There is limited research to suggest that posture is linked to back problems, but staying in awkward positions is likely to increase your pain.
- Painkillers – ‘Rub on’ (topical) treatments and painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol are effective in most cases. Speak to your pharmacist for further information.
- Sleeping position – Try different sleeping positions. Try putting a pillow between your legs or under your knees if you prefer lying on your back. Improving your sleep can improve your pain symptoms.
- Lifting – Lift close to your body, bend your knees instead of your back and try to avoid lifting heavy items when your back is acutely painful. Click here for further details.
- Lose weight – upper body weight can put strain on the lower back, so aiming to achieve a healthy weight should protect against back pain
When should I see my doctor?
You should see your doctor if your pain is very severe, lasts for a long period of time or affects your everyday activities. You should contact the doctor if you have symptoms of sciatica.
Very rarely, back pain can indicate a more serious problem.
See your doctor immediately if you experience any of the following problems:
- Problems passing or controlling urine
- Loss of control of your bowels
- Numbness around your back passage or genitals
- Weakness in your legs or are unsteady on your feet.
Common causes of back pain:
- Acute lower back pain or acute neck pain. The onset is often sudden with acute pain and spasm in the lower back or neck. Most episodes will get better within 6-12 weeks, with simple painkillers and home exercise treatment.
- However some Lower Back Pain will become more persistent and persistent neck pain with acute episodes occurring repeatedly after relatively simple events, such as putting shoes on or bending to pick things up. It may also become persistent than the usual 6-12 weeks. This does not mean you there is a serious cause or you need a scan. It does mean you should increase your exercise and get appropriate advice from a clinician such as a physiotherapist.
- Low Back Pain with leg pain (sciatica) and Neck pain with arm pain. In more severe cases pain may travel from the lower back down the leg as far as the foot (sciatica) or from the neck down the arm. It is the pain that occurs when the sciatic (in lower back) or cervical (in neck) nerve, becomes compressed or irritated. It results in pain, numbness and/or tingling from the lower back and buttock, down one of the legs to the foot in the lower back or from neck to arm in case of the neck. While 90% resolve with no intervention it does require clinician. It is usually caused by a ‘’slipped’’ (prolapsed disc) in the spine.
- Thoracic Back Pain – less commonly pain may arise between the neck and the lower back in the Thoracic spine. It is often worse on movement (mechanical). However if it is persistent and disturbing sleep, worse in the morning or associated with non-mechanical symptoms such as cough or abdominal symptoms you should seek advice from your GP.