Low back pain is one of the leading causes of disability in the UK and most people are affected by it at some time in their lives. In May 2017, the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (the CSP) published a new guide which offers clear advice on how to manage low back pain based on the latest research. In this blog, we summarise their ’10 things you need to know’ about low back pain.
Your back is strong and designed to move
Back pain is very common and whilst it can be very disabling our backs are designed to move and withstand force. Consider how much movement our caveman ancestors had to do!
Scans are not always necessary
In most cases of low back pain there is nothing serious to worry about though in rare cases medical input is required. Scans often show normal age-related changes which patients can interpret as “damage”. Consider how we age on this outside with wrinkles, well, the same happens on the inside. People without any history of back pain are likely to show age related changes if scanned.
For the first couple of days it is advisable to avoid any activities which provoke the pain such as prolonged sitting or lifting. That said, as soon as you can it is important to move normally and keep active and working. Research suggests that prolonged periods of inactivity do more harm than good.
Don’t be scared!
Years of health and safety training have taught us all to be scared of lifting and bending and twisting but your back is strong and designed to move. Find the best strategy for you and modify your activity if needed, so tasks can be performed comfortably. We are all different so find what works for you.
Research has shown that movement helps low back pain and has been proven to be effective in reducing future episodes. If you are new to exercise then start slow and build up gradually – physiotherapists are experts in advising on exercises so feel free to get in touch. It can be a bit sore at first but this is a “good pain” and just means you’re using muscles that have perhaps switched off recently, don’t panic, this is normal.
Painkillers don’t always help
Research suggests that popping painkillers doesn’t help much, especially without any additional interventions such as exercise.
Operations aren’t always needed
In some cases, surgery is required to give the nerve supplying the legs more space. However long-term results have been shown to be the same as for non-surgical interventions and exercise and activity should be tried before resorting to surgery.
Get your zzzzzz’s in
A good night’s sleep can reduce stress, improving your overall wellbeing and coping mechanisms for dealing with low back pain. Physios get asked all the time about pillows and mattresses but there is no conclusive answer other than what works for you.
Back pain can occur for other reasons
Stress, fear, anxiety and depression can all contribute to back pain and these can combine with physical factors to cause the pain. It’s important to understand all of the causes, not just the physical ones, in order for treatment to be successful.