Back pain is a common problem that affects most people at some point in their life. It usually feels like an ache, tension or stiffness in your back.
The pain can be triggered by bad posture while sitting or standing, bending awkwary, or lifting incorrectly.
Back pain is not generally caused by a serious condition and, in most cases, it gets better within 12 weeks. It can usually be successfully treated by taking painkillers and keeping mobile.
Types of back pain
Backache is most common in the lower back, although it can be felt anywhere along your spine, from your neck down to your hips. You can find information on the specific types of back pain on the following pages:
- ankylosing spondylitis
- slipped disc
Treating back pain
If you have back pain, you should try to remain as active as possible and continue with your daily activities. In the past, doctors recommended rest for back pain, but most experts now agree that being inactive for long periods is bad for your back. Moderate activity, such as walking or doing everyday tasks, will help your recovery.
You can take painkillers, if you feel the need to. Hot or cold compression packs may also help reduce the pain.
For back pain that lasts more than six weeks, treatment typically involves a combination of painkillers and physiotherapy. If the treatment does not improve the back pain symptoms then spinal injection is the next step.
Spinal surgery is usually only considered when all else has failed.
Backache in pregnancy
It’s quite common to get backache in pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, you may not want to take painkillers, but there are other ways of easing the discomfort.
When to see a doctor
You should visit your doctor if you are worried about your back or you are finding it difficult to cope with the pain.
You should seek immediate medical help if your back pain is accompanied by:
- swelling in the back
- constant back pain that doesn’t ease after lying down
- pain in your chest or high up in your back
- pain down your legs and below the knees
- numbness around your buttocks
- pain that is worse at night
These are known as ‘red flag symptoms’ and could be a sign of something more serious.
Preventing back pain
How you sit, stand, lie and lift can all affect the health of your back.
Try to avoid placing too much pressure on your back and ensure your back is strong and supple. Regular exercise, such as walking and swimming, is an excellent way of preventing back pain. Activities such as yoga or pilates can improve your flexibility and strengthen your back muscles.