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Friday, 14 July 2017 06:08

Back Pain

Low Back Pain

Lower back pain is very common with up to 85% of people experiencing some form of it at some point in their lives. By far the most common form of this is what doctors term acute mechanical back pain, which can last for up to 6 weeks. 

Surprisingly, the exact cause of this pain can not be accurately known from examination findings or from standard imaging techniques including x rays, CT scans and MRIs. We know the pain arises from the discs, joints, ligaments and muscles in the back but exactly where in each person’s case it is difficult to know. For this reason, in acute mechanical back pain lasting under 6 weeks, X rays and other imaging techniques should be avoided unless your doctor is concerned that the symptoms suggest another cause for the back pain.

The treatment for this form of acute back pain centres on avoiding provoking factors, maintaining activity, therapy such as heat to reduce muscle spasm and the use of simple painkillers such as paracetamol and anti-inflammatories. In more severe forms, physiotherapy can be of assistance to promote more rapid recovery and prevent further injury in the future. Establishing a health weight, maintaining long-term fitness, specific back exercises and stretches as well as activities such as yoga and Pilates can help some people prevent further episodes.

Certain features however suggest other more serious causes of back pain and it is important to seek early medical advice.  These include:

  • Pain associated with a fall or any trauma or accident
  • A past history of cancer
  • Pain associated with fever, sweats or weight loss
  • Pain that is increasing in severity
  • Pain that is worse at night or interferes with sleep
  • Pain persisting longer than 6 weeks

 Pain that radiates down the leg or is associated with numbness, tingling or a loss of muscle power is suggestive of nerve root compression also known commonly as sciatica. The assessment and treatment of this type of pain is very different and an early visit to the doctor is important.