Back pain is a very common problem. It is usually not due to any serious disease. Most episodes of back pain get better quickly. Simple analgesics (pain-relieving medication) and a change of activity are generally all that is needed.
About half of all people who get back pain will have further episodes. The first step to managing back pain is to rule out the possibility of any medical problem, such as infection or fracture (although these are rarely the cause).
What you need to know about your back
Your spine is made up of stacked bones called vertebrae. They are arranged in 3 natural curves:
Cervical – the curve inward at your neck
Thoracic – the curve outward in the middle
Lumbar – the curve inward in your lower back.
Your back is a complex structure that provides support for your pelvis, legs, ribcage, arms and skull. The spine is made up of bones called vertebrae that are stacked together to form a loose ‘S’-shaped column.
Each vertebra is cushioned by spongy tissue or cartilage called intervertebral discs. These discs act as shock absorbers and give the spine its flexibility. They have a flat structure with a jelly-like centre. Vertebrae are joined by pairs of small joints known as ‘facet’ joints. A mesh of connective tissue called ligaments holds the spine together.
Complex layers of muscle provide structural support and allow movement. The spinal cord runs through the centre of the vertebral stack and connects the brain to the rest of the body.
Are there different kinds of low back pain?
Yes: ‘specific’ and ‘non-specific’
‘Specific’ back pain
‘Specific’ back pain is rare. Less than 1% of people have back pain related to cancer, infection, fracture or an inflammatory process. Only about 5% of people have back and leg pain associated with nerve compression resulting in a loss of power and sensation in the leg. This means that the majority of people with back pain DO NOT have ‘specific’ pathology.
‘Non-specific’ back pain
The good news is that for most people (90-95%) back pain is NOT related to ‘specific’ pathology. Most back pain is caused by a simple strain of the back usually at a time where we are more vulnerable (ie. run down, tired, stressed, tense, sad, inactive or over-active). While this kind of back pain can be really painful and scary, where even small movements hurt and the muscles in the back seize up, the majority of people with this recover in a week or two.
Back pain 80% of the population will suffer from back pain at some time.
Studies show that osteopathic treatment reduces back pain, increases mobility and speeds the recovery process.
Your osteopath can assist you to develop the course of action consistent with your lifestyle, symptoms and goals to manage your back and neck pain.
Your osteopath may:
work on joint mobility
work on muscular tension, inflammation and nerve irritation
investigate blood supply and drainage to and from the spine and pelvis
reduce the duration of low back pain and help prevent future episodes
offer advice on posture, exercises and stretching
provide advice on improving your ergonomic environment
provide guidance on diet, hydration and exercise
communicate and plan treatmnet with your GP
refer you for radiological assessment when required
provide care funded by workers compensation schemes and traffic accident shemes.
Osteopaths can be visited without a referral from a GP and are trained to know the difference between uncomplicated back pain and back pain requiring referral to specialist care. In some cases there may be a more serious cause for low back pain such as disc injury, fracture, tumour and infection, which requires ongoing specialist support.
How to manage low back pain
Low back pain can be helped by many things that you can do for yourself. The best advice is to keep gently active, even if it causes some extra pain. Taking pain relief regularly is important to help you keep moving and in most cases anti-inflammatories are best.