Back pain is common and debilitating. It can limit your activities and reduce your quality of life. And it hurts!
Back pain is very common. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 1 in 6 Australians experienced back pain in 2017-18.
Physiotherapy relieves back pain and strengthens your body to reduce the likelihood of it happening again.
Understanding your back
Your back is a complex structure involving:
- Vertebrae – the hollow bony building blocks of your spine
- Discs – shock-absorbing, spongy cushions that sit between your vertebrae
- Nerves – that run through your spinal cord and exit your spinal column in various places
- Muscles and other soft tissues that support your spine.
What causes back pain?
Your back is both strong and flexible. It works well when each of its structures is in good shape and doing its bit to support the rest of your back.
Unfortunately, injury or an underlying condition can disrupt your back and cause pain.
Common reasons for back pain include:
- Muscle or ligament strains due to poor posture, overuse, heavy lifting or a sudden, awkward movement
- Disc degeneration – when a disc bulges or ruptures it can slip beyond its normal position and press on a nerve, causing pain
- Underlying conditions like:
- Spinal stenosis, where your spinal canal narrows and presses on your nerves
- Osteoarthritis of the spine, which can inflame the small facet joints attached to your vertebrae
- Osteoporosis, where the bones become weak and brittle, increasing the risk of fractures
- Obesity, because the excess weight places your back under greater strain.
Is back pain more common as you get older?
Yes, it is. And you don’t have to be collecting your pension. Back pain is a common issue for people in their 40s.
People aged 45-54 are the third most common age group experiencing back problems.
The structures of your spine often start to show some wear and tear as you get older and it’s not always easy to stay in good shape during a busy season of life where you’re often holding down a job, raising teenagers and caring for older parents.
Symptoms of back pain
Back pain symptoms depend on which part of your back is causing the problem.
You may experience:
- Aching muscles
- Shooting pains
- A burning sensation
- Stabbing pains
- Pain that radiates down your leg
- Pain that worsens with certain movements like bending, twisting, lifting, standing or walking.
See your doctor immediately if you experience:
- Incontinence (you can’t control when you go to the toilet)
- Numbness or weakness in your legs
- Numbness in your bottom and perineum (the crotch area around your vagina or scrotum).
These symptoms may signal a rare nerve condition called cauda equina syndrome that needs urgent medical attention.
That is rare though. Most cases of back pain are not serious and are managed with either self-care at home or physiotherapy.
Diagnosing back pain
If you’ve been experiencing back pain, the first step is to get a proper diagnosis from your GP or physiotherapist. It’s important to understand exactly what’s causing the pain in your back to be able to find the right treatment.
Your doctor or physio will listen to your symptoms and examine your back. If they suspect an underlying condition, they may also order some scans of your back to see if there are any changes to your spine or discs. (Please note that scans are not required for all back pain patients.)
Once the cause is known, the right treatment can begin. If an underlying condition has been found, you’ll start treatment for that, alongside treatment to ease your back pain.
How physiotherapy can help
Physiotherapists understand how your body is put together and how its parts are supposed to work together.
When we examine you, we can see where you’re experiencing pain, but also see where the real problem lies. Often, it’s somewhere else.
For example, if you’ve got lower back pain, it may be because your lower back has moved more to compensate for stiffness in your mid-back (thoracic spine). Similarly, if you’ve had an injury to one area of your back, you may have relied more on other parts which are now hurting.
Physiotherapists understand the need to strengthen the broader structures that support your back to relieve pain in a certain area. That may involve:
- Strengthening your core muscles to provide more support to your spine
- Improving your posture or workplace ergonomics to avoid strain
- Retraining your motor (movement) patterns
- Helping you relax overactive muscles to prevent recurring pain.
Managing back pain at Physionorth
At Physionorth we take our time to complete a thorough assessment of your whole body to find the root cause of your back pain.
If your back pain is linked to a broader condition, we’ll liaise with your doctors to ensure you receive coordinated care.
We use a variety of treatment techniques for back pain including:
- Exercise prescription (including core stability)
- Posture correction and education
- Soft tissue techniques including trigger point releases
- Dry needling (musculoskeletal acupuncture)
- Taping and brace prescription
- Electrotherapeutic techniques (including TENS, interferential, ultrasound and real time ultrasound)
- Prescription of walking aides.
Physiotherapy is not a quick fix, but rather a long-term way of improving your body’s condition to reduce the symptoms or recurrence of back pain so you can move more freely and enjoy an active life.
If you’d like help with back pain, please come and see our capable physiotherapists. We’d love to help you get moving again.