80% of us will get back pain at some point in our lives. It’s one of the most common reasons you visit a health practitioner. You may try and rub it, do a few half stretches and move it around a little. Yep. Still hurts, now what?

I love explaining and helping my clients to understand the basics of back pain, but please remember each case is usually different and you should always ask for specific advice rather than playing Dr Google.

1. Don’t take back pain lying down – it is not truly beneficial, and furthermore, lying down is now thought to delay your recovery. My best advice is to stay as active as you can without pain or hurting yourself. It’s an old and outdated theory that damaged tissue heals faster with complete rest.

2. Back pain doesn’t mean there is an injury – Yes, there are fractures, disc problems and other soft tissue sprains and strains, but over 50% of us develop back pain without injury. Less obvious causes are stress, poor mood, prolonged poor posture, lack of sleep and anxiety. Discussing these can help you better identify why you are in pain!

3. Your body usually fixes itself – in almost all cases of acute back pain, you will recover in weeks or months even if your pain was severe to start with. It’s often a good idea to educate yourself on your own back and what you should be doing to look after it. However, you should see a practitioner immediately if you have:

  • Pain radiating down your leg
  • Pins, needles, numbness, tingling or muscle weakness
  • Abnormal bowel or bladder function, changes in appetite, fever or feeling unwell
  • An underlying condition such as osteoporosis
  • Your severe pain doesn’t improve quickly

4. Paracetamol (or panadol) doesn’t help – Evidence from a recent large study suggested that the standard GP method of tackling back pain didn’t work. It didn’t help recovery. It didn’t help pain. And it didn’t improve the range of activities people were able to perform. There is little evidence that other painkillers help either, other than Ibuprofen, an anti-inflammatory such as Nurofen.

5. Sustained stress can cause back pain – Stress has many side effects, and one of the biggest is excessive muscle tension. Excessive muscle tension can lead to fatigue, stiffness and localised pain. Constant, tight muscles cause imbalances and undue stress on parts of the back leading to pain. Stress can also increase the risk of inflammatory disease which can result in back pain.

If you are uncertain, please ask if what you are doing is right. It will save your recovery a lot of time, and that means it hurts less! It is also common to ask me about a friend or family members pain.

Look after yourselves,

Thanks to Radio Australia for the idea.