Back pain

Low Back pain (LBP) and neck pain are common problems, which affects four out of five of us at some point.

What can I do myself to get better – now and in the future

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
Where can I find more information

You can find some excellent tips on preventing and treating back pain on the NHS Choices website.
For more information, click the links below:

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:

  1. Problems passing or controlling urine
  2. Loss of control of your bowels
  3. Numbness around your back passage or genitals
  4. 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.