In this comprehensive guide, we will answer some of the most pressing questions about back pain and how to treat it.
First and foremost we’ll explore the possible causes of back pain and identify the different factors that can contribute to discomfort. We’ll also delve into when you should worry about your lower back pain, and when it’s best to seek medical attention.
You may be wondering why your back is in pain in the first place. We’ll discuss the various conditions and injuries that can lead to lower back pain, as well as some common myths about the issue.
Of course, one of the most important aspects of this guide is finding relief from your discomfort. We’ll explore different treatments and strategies for managing lower back pain, including both rest and movement. Additionally, we’ll provide some tips on how to prevent future pain and promote a healthy back.
If you’re currently experiencing lower back pain, you may be wondering how long it will take to heal. We’ll cover the typical recovery time for different types of back pain and offer some advice on how to speed up the recovery process.
Finally, we’ll explore some of the best exercises and stretches for getting rid of lower back pain. With the right techniques, you can address your discomfort and work towards a healthier, pain-free back.
If you’ve been experiencing back pain for more than two weeks or suffering from severe lower back pain, it’s crucial to consult with a Physiotherapist to rule out any underlying medical conditions and determine the best course of treatment for your specific needs.
Book a free assessment with one of our Physiotherapists online, or read on to learn more about how you can fix your own back pain.
In this blog we’ll be looking at the following:
What are the causes of back pain?
If you’re experiencing lower back pain, it’s essential to understand that the majority (over 90%) of episodes are diagnosed as non-specific mechanical back pain. This means that the pain is felt in the lower back, such as the muscles, nerves, ligaments, tendons and joints, without any specific tissue damage causing the discomfort.
Your back may feel tight, stiff, and uncomfortable because it’s hypersensitive, which could be related to a bad night’s sleep or a sudden force such as a road traffic accident. It’s important to note that there doesn’t have to be an injury or any tissue damage to cause this type of pain, which can often be influenced by lifestyle factors such as a lack of physical activity, poor sleep, stress, depressing mood, limiting beliefs, or a combination of all the above.
While other potential causes such as herniated discs, spinal stenosis, degenerative disc disease, spondylolisthesis, osteoarthritis, or sciatica are unlikely, it’s still crucial to rule them out to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment.
If you want to know for sure what type of pain you have and get expert advice on how to manage it, why not book a free assessment online with one of our experienced Physiotherapists? They can help you understand your symptoms and develop an individualised treatment plan to get you back to feeling your best.
When should I worry about my lower back pain?
If you’re experiencing back pain, don’t worry- for most people, it’s nothing to be too concerned about and can be treated.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that certain symptoms may indicate a need for medical attention. If you have a history of malignancy, infective symptoms like a fever, sudden severe pain after a fall or injury, or suddenly develop back stiffness along with difficulty going to the toilet, it’s best to seek a medical assessment from NHS 24 by dialling 111 or the Emergency Department.
Additionally, if you experience pain, tingling, numbness, or weakness in your arms or legs, have a history of inflammatory disease (especially if on immunosuppressants), or abnormal sensation or power in arms or legs, it’s important to get checked out as soon as possible.
For patients under the age of 18 or over the age of 55 with a new onset of symptoms, it’s recommended to see their GP.
However, if you don’t have any of these red flags, we’re here to help you start fixing your back pain.
Why is your back in pain?
When it comes to managing lower back pain, understanding pain itself is crucial. It’s important to know that pain is personal, normal, and always real.
Your brain perceives pain as a natural response to potential harm or danger, much like an alarm system. Interestingly, pain can occur even when there is no apparent tissue damage, as it is not proportional to the extent of injury. The context matters a lot when it comes to pain perception.
Rather than viewing your body as a machine that needs to be fixed, consider it more like an orchestra, with each movement acting as a different instrument. When experiencing pain or discomfort, the goal is to re-tune the instrument to restore effective function within the orchestra.
It’s essential to understand that there’s a difference between pain and discomfort when recovering from an injury. Gradual stress on the body is necessary to improve its function, even if it causes some discomfort. Resting the painful area may seem intuitive, but it can actually delay recovery. Instead, you need to stress the tissue gradually to help it adapt and become stronger.
Later on, we’ll explain how you can use this approach to manage your lower back pain effectively.
Back pain myths you need to know
It’s understandable that you may have faith in old back myths that were established before the issue was better understood. However, relying on these myths can instil fear and dependence on others to resolve the problem.
Fortunately, with a better understanding, you can learn to fix the issue on your own. This not only saves time and money but also enhances your quality of life. So, don’t be afraid to educate yourself and take control of your back health.
Myth #1: Your back hurts because you have a “poor” posture
If you’re experiencing back pain, you might believe that your posture is the cause of it. However, it’s concerning how many professionals continue to reinforce this myth.
While adjusting your posture may provide temporary relief, it can also lead to unnecessary fear of certain activities and prolong your symptoms until you receive treatments that actually work in the long term.
Despite this common belief, numerous studies have shown that back posture, or any posture, is not associated with pain. People with “terrible posture” often have no pain, while those with “good posture” may experience chronic pain.
To illustrate this point, we have a video of Robert, one of our stroke survivors, practising his walking with a rounded upper back posture (known as kyphotic posture) that many would consider suboptimal. However, Robert is pain-free and able to perform everyday tasks within the limitations of his stroke.
Imagine being asked to stand at attention like a soldier with a “perfect” posture for hours. You would feel just as achy and sore, if not more so, than if you sat at your desk for hours on end.
Furthermore, research suggests that changing your workstation and sitting position has little to no impact on whether or not you develop back pain, and it won’t lead to a quicker recovery if you already have back pain.
In summary, the worst posture is the one you spend a long time in. Therefore, don’t blame your posture for your back pain, and instead focus on your activity levels (e.g. steps) and other effective treatments to alleviate your symptoms.
Myth #2: Your back hurts because it’s out of alignment and needs manipulating or mobilising to put it back.
If you’re experiencing back pain in your middle ages, it’s common to assume that it’s just a natural part of ageing and that drugs are the only solution to manage the discomfort and decline in function. However, this assumption is both unhelpful for your recovery and untrue.
Regardless of your age, back pain can affect anyone. It’s not necessarily caused by wear and tear, and many young people can experience back pain while some elderly individuals do not.
Even those suffering from cervical spondylosis can have minimal pain despite significant joint deformities. And a study conducted in 2015 found that 37% of 20-year-olds had disc degeneration without any back pain, while 96% of 80-year-olds had disc degeneration without pain.
This indicates that most age-related changes in the body, such as disc degeneration, are like internal wrinkles or grey hairs – natural and painless processes.
Therefore, in most cases, getting a scan of your back won’t provide helpful information unless you exhibit any of the red flags described earlier. The scan won’t reveal why your back is painful or provide new insights. Instead, the best medicine for back pain is advice, education, and movement.
Myth #3: “I don’t want to mask the pain with tablets”
If you’re struggling with back pain, you may have concerns about taking painkillers. You might be worried that they will mask the pain or make it worse if you move your back too much. Alternatively, some people may choose not to take painkillers on principle.
Taking short-term painkillers under the guidance of a GP or pharmacist can aid in promoting earlier recovery and exercise. This is because acute back pain is often caused by increased sensitivity in the back rather than damage. It’s essential to remember that pain doesn’t always correlate with harm.
By gradually increasing your back mobility with the help of painkillers, you can break the vicious cycle of pain, limited movement, stiffness, and sensitivity. So, don’t be hesitant to talk to your doctor about pain management options that can help you recover faster and get back to your daily activities.
How do you treat back pain?
If you’re experiencing back pain and seeking a short-term solution, a Sports Massage might be just what you need. Not only can it provide pain relief, but it can also boost your mood and immune system while reducing stress levels. Another benefit is that your therapist can demonstrate how to perform exercises outlined in this blog, helping to alleviate any fear of movement you may have.
However, for a more long-term solution, the Treatment Pyramid below is the way to go. The first step is to seek out a good Physiotherapist who can educate you on your condition, help reduce your fear of movement and create a rehab plan with you based on your individual needs.
Next is general movement therapy, which has been proven to be an effective painkiller for most muscle pains. Engaging in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week, including 30 minutes of progressive resistance training on two separate days, is recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officer Physical Activity Guidelines (moderate intensity meaning you can speak but not sing, or slightly breathless).
And for a comprehensive approach that includes personalized training, physiotherapy, and sports massage, consider our services. Our expert team can help you develop a well-rounded plan to address your back pain and improve your overall physical well-being. Whether you need guidance in exercise, rehabilitation, or relaxation, our team is here to support you on your journey to a pain-free and healthy lifestyle.
Not getting enough physical activity? Don’t worry – even a 5-minute walk per day can make a huge difference! This is known as the Minimal Effective Dose. By increasing your physical activity, you can improve your physical and mental resilience to movement and activity through bioplasticity. This refers to the fact that your back tissue can change and improve with movement, ultimately reducing your pain and the chance of injury or discomfort.
Think of your physical capacity as a cup, and daily physical movements and mental stressors as the liquid. The larger your cup, the more stress your back and brain can tolerate, reducing your chance of pain and discomfort. However, simply resting won’t solve the problem. Instead, we need to stress your tissue in a smart way to start improving your function and symptoms efficiently.
This is where the Goldilocks principle of rehabilitation comes in. Resting your back and wearing a back brace won’t help – in fact, it can make your muscles weaker and exacerbate your symptoms. On the other hand, moving too much can aggravate your symptoms and delay your recovery. Stay tuned to learn how to get the stress levels just right for optimal results.
Is it better to rest or move lower back pain?
Now that you’re aware of the benefits of stress, you can use it to your advantage when dealing with back pain. When you stress your back just enough, you create small micro-traumas that signal to your brain and central nervous system that you need to improve your range of motion and stress tolerance.
With proper sleep and stress management techniques, your body can enter a state of super-compensation, where it becomes stronger and more resilient than before. This is shown in the super-compensation graph here.
By consistently challenging your back with the right amount of stress and recovery time, you can increase the size of your physical capacity “cup” and improve your symptoms and back function. This concept is known as bioplasticity, and it’s a powerful tool for recovery.
However, be careful not to overdo it – too much stress, whether it’s mental or physical, can actually increase your back pain and muscle tension. So remember to find the right balance of stress and recovery to achieve optimal results.
How long does back pain take to heal?
It’s important to note that not everyone with back pain experiences complete resolution of their symptoms and disability. However, with a solid rehab plan in place, you can improve your painful symptoms and return to normal levels of function.
Keep in mind that recovering from back pain is often a journey with its fair share of ups and downs. The speed of your recovery will depend on factors such as the quality of advice and education you receive, your compliance with the recommended treatments, and your levels of fear and catastrophisation.
To avoid setting unrealistic expectations, it’s best to think of your rehab as milestones rather than timelines. With our lower back Physio programme we provide a structure, that focuses on milestones, taking you through each stage of recovery one step at a time when you’re ready..
Unfortunately, there is no magic pill for back pain. While placebos such as acupuncture or dry needling may provide immediate relief for some people, they only work for a short period before you need to go back for more treatments. This can quickly become expensive and prolong your long-term recovery.
In the next section, we’ll outline our most common mobility and strength treatments that have been proven to work well for people with back pain in the long term.
What are the best exercises to get rid of back pain?
We’ve selected the exercises below based on both the latest scientific research and our own clinical experience working with back pain patients. These dynamic strengthening and mobility protocols will help improve your back’s physical capacity.
It’s worth noting that the best rehab exercises for you are usually the ones that you find challenging and uncomfortable.
For optimal results, we suggest repeating each exercise at least twice a day. Start with 5 repetitions and gradually work up to 15 reps as you feel able. Remember that slight discomfort (up to 5/10 pain) is normal and even desirable, but ease off if it goes beyond a 6/10 pain level.
Once you can do 15 repetitions of level 1, give level 2 a go and so on.
Don’t forget to breathe out as you move into discomfort – this will help you relax and gradually increase your range of motion and alleviate symptoms. With patience and consistency, you’ll be on your way to recovery in no time!
If you’re experiencing lower back pain, it’s important to take action and seek help. Our FREE ONLINE LOWER BACK PHYSIOTHERAPY ASSESSMENT is a great place to start. By using scientifically-based exercises designed to improve your back’s physical capacity, you can gradually build strength and mobility, leading to a reduction in pain and improved overall health.
So don’t wait any longer – check out our free online lower back physiotherapy assessment today and take the first step towards a pain-free future.
If you’re seeking personalized guidance to address your discomfort, our experienced physiotherapists at Health by Science are here to assist you on your journey to a pain-free shoulder. We offer a range of treatments tailored to your specific needs.
But that’s not all – we understand that comprehensive well-being includes both physical and mental health. That’s why we also provide Personal Training Edinburgh to help you stay active and fit. Our certified trainers will work with you to create a tailored fitness plan that complements your physiotherapy.