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Back pain is one of the most common day-to-day health complaints suffered by most of the UK population at one point or another.  Most of the time, back pain gets better over time, and it’s nothing to worry about particularly. That said, if you have to cope with back pain that lasts a long time, it can be challenging to deal with and cause significant discomfort.

Back pain usually lasts a few days or weeks, and there are ways to help recover along and reduce the pain.  To relieve short-term back pain, you can try some of the following:

  • Doing exercise for back pain.  This can be in particular stretches and activities or attending yoga or pilates classes.  Swimming and walking can also be beneficial – nothing too high impact.
  • As well as exercising, it’s important to be active throughout the day instead of allowing the pain to keep you indoors or rest.  Going through your daily activities, as usual, is one of the best things you can do to help, as being inactive for a long time is likely to make the pain worse.
  • Apply hot or cold packs or a hot water bottle, depending on which you find relieves the pain more.  You can even wrap ice or frozen vegetables in a tea towel or cloth if you can’t get cold packs or want instant relief at home.
  • Try over-the-counter anti-inflammatory painkillers as short-term relief
  • Stay optimistic as much as possible!  You’re more likely to recover quicker if you avoid a negative outlook.

However, suppose back pain lasts longer than a few weeks or months.  In that case, you may need to consider visiting your GP, especially if the pain stops you from continuing daily activities or you’re finding it difficult to manage.  If the pain gets worse or more frequent, it’s also a reason to visit a healthcare professional.  Your GP will assess you and refer you to a specialist if they feel it is necessary.

Causes of back pain

Back pain can have various causes, including trauma, injury or a specific medical condition.  More common conditions causing back pain include:

  • A slipped or herniated disc in the spine.  Discs in the spine work together to provide stability in the back and allow a wide range of movement.  Over time, these discs may become injured due to pressure and stress, age, or trauma.  This can cause lower back pain, leg pain, or numbness and weakness.
  • Sciatica occurs when the nerve running down from the pelvis to the feet irritates.  Sciatica usually affects one side of the body and can also cause numbness in the leg.
  • A sprain or strain in the back, which can also limit movement
  • Compression on nerves in the spine

Back pain may also have no obvious cause, in which it is identified as ‘non-specific back pain’.  Back pain is treated differently depending on if it has a specific reason or if it is non-specific.

When back pain becomes an emergency

If you experience any of the following symptoms combined with back pain, it is best to see a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Swelling or deformity in the back
  • Weight loss with no particular reason
  • Lack of control over bladder or bowels
  • Difficulties when urinating
  • Pain in the chest
  • Numbness or a tingling sensation in the buttocks or genitals
  • High temperature (fever above 38°C)

Suppose you experience back pain after having been in an accident or after falling, for example.  In that case, you should contact your healthcare provider, as it could indicate a more serious injury.

Treatment for back pain

Treatment for back pain depends on the type of back pain or condition the patient is suffering from.  Your GP may recommend particular treatment methods, or they may refer you to a specialist who can deal with specific conditions and different kinds of pain.

Many treatment methods include exercise and physiotherapy, where the patient is taught how to practice exercises which will hopefully improve their condition by improving muscle strength and tone.  Posture can also be improved, which in turn can help reduce pain.

With manual therapy or physiotherapy, massages or manipulation of a particular area in the spine may be recommended.  Make sure to visit a healthcare professional such as a physiotherapist or chiropractor to have this treatment carried out.

Some patients may need emotional or psychological support to help them cope with the pain.  It can be a struggle to deal with pain that doesn’t go away over a long period, and cognitive therapy may be a solution which gives the patient the support they need.

With some conditions, surgery may be a solution, but this is only recommended for particular cases when the doctor or healthcare professional has evaluated all the symptoms and assessed the patient’s condition.

If you experience back pain in your day-to-day life, there are small lifestyle changes and tips which can help you cope with the pain and manage it at home.  Find out more here.