Lower back pain is very common and treatable!
Research has shown that up to 80% of the population will have at least one episode of lower back pain in their life. Most of these episodes will resolve in less than six weeks. Less than 5% of lower back injuries lead to chronic lower back pain.
Lower back pain re-occurrence is normal!
Reaggravation of lower back pain occurs to over 70% of people within 12 months. Generally, the reaggravation is less severe and heals quicker than the first episode.
Scans are not the best way to diagnose back pain.
It Is generally not recommended to get scans when you first experience lower back pain. Scans have been shown to misdiagnose and increase fear. The below table shows the prevalence of lower back pathologies in people who do not have pain e.g. at the age of 30 you have a 40% chance of having a disc bulge without you knowing about it.
Brinjikji W. Systematic literature review of imaging features of spinal degeneration in asymptomatic populations. AJNR Am J Neuroradiol. 2015 Apr;36(4):811-6. doi: 10.3174/ajnr.A4173. Epub 2014 Nov 27.
Lumbar discs have the capacity to heal
Research has shown that disc injuries have the ability to heal spontaneously or with conservative management. However, they heal at a slower rate compared to other tissues e.g. muscles. They can take between 3- 40 months to fully resolve. Having a disc pathology most often does not lead to life long disability or pain. As shown in the previous point, many people naturally have disc bulges without any pain. In rare cases, a person may require surgery but only if conservative treatment has failed.
Your spine is ‘most likely’ not out of alignment
As humans, we come in all different shapes and sizes. We are not perfect and hence can be seen to have slight asymmetries in our bodies, including our spines. Research using cadavers have shown that pelvis asymmetry was common with variations in height up to 17 millimetres. People can live normally with mild curves in the spine (Scoliosis) with no physical pain e.g. Usain Bolt.
What to do when you first experience lower back pain
– Avoid bedrest!
For the average person, the first thing that comes to mind when experiencing back pain is to rest. This is understandable because when you have other types of injuries you may be told to rest and apply ice. However, bed rest has been linked to increased stiffness, pain and a slower recovery. It has been shown that per day of bed rest, you can lose up to 1% strength. One week of bed rest can lead to 20 – 30% loss of strength. Building your strength back will take a long time and therefore slow your recovery.
– Stay Active!
Movement is highly recommended and critical at this stage. Remaining active reduces your likelihood of stiffness and muscle wasting. The sooner you can get back to your normal daily routine the better. Make sure to only perform activities that do not aggravate your pain. Regular short periods of walking is really helpful for lower back pain.
– Focus on pain free movements
In most cases, you will notice that you get pain with either bending forward or extending backward. Whichever way is painful, consider avoid activities in that direction and perform movements in the opposite directions. For example, you have pain bending forward, you should avoid prolonged sitting and do regular walking.
– Anti-Inflammatories are beneficial
When you have an injury, your body responds by sending inflammation to the area. This inflammation includes a bunch of chemicals that make your nerves more sensitive leading to increased pain. Hence, off the counter medications such as non-steroidal anti-Inflammatories are helpful. Please avoid taking these medications for more than a couple of days. For long term use, I recommend having natural alternatives such as turmeric, ginger and cherries.
– Heat/Cold packs are helpful and Creams are sort of helpful
Both heat packs and cold packs have been proven to help alleviate pain. I personally prefer heat packs because they help relax muscles and reduce stiffness. Heat/Cold creams are less effective, as they do not directly heat/cool the skin or muscles. However, the hot or cold sensation may provide you some relief from the pain.
I always say if the benefits of exercise were found in a magic pill, everyone would be taking it! All types of exercises are effective at preventing and alleviating lower back pain. However, make sure to avoid exercises that aggravate your lower back pain. If your pain is prolonged or worsens, please consult your GP and consider reviewing it with an injury specialist e.g. physiotherapist. Specific exercises prescribed by physiotherapists have been proven to be the most effective treatment for chronic lower back pain.
If you need to speak to someone about your back pain please don’t hesitate to email or call us.