Chronic pain in your back – not an obvious recent strain from something such as gym activity or falling off your bike, but pain that persists and gets worse over time.
Most back pain is caused by minor sprains or strains – which will be familiar to MF readers – or pinched or irritated nerves. Repetitive sports, heavy lifting, slouching at your desk and bad driving posture don’t help. Back pain can also be caused by stress (and the accompanying tensed back muscles) or by extra bodyweight straining the back. In extreme cases it may signify frozen shoulder, ankylosing spondylitis, a slipped disc or sciatica.
‘Back pain is classically in the lower back,’ says Ratajczak. ‘If it’s moving up the spine and doesn’t alleviate when you lie down, and you’re also losing weight, it could be something much more serious such as bone cancer.’
WHAT TO DO
When sport and exercise are a major part of your life, you’re highly likely to experience back pain. ‘Sports that use repetitive impact or twisting – such as running, golf and tennis – put you at a higher risk,’ says Dr Ajai Seth, sport and exercise medicine advisor to charity challenge tour company Classic Tours (classictours.co.uk). ‘Walking, swimming and yoga can help, as can changing your sleeping position.’
If the pain persists, your GP can refer you to an NHS physiotherapist, but the waiting lists can be interminable. You may prefer to bypass the NHS and head straight for a private physiotherapist or osteopath. There’s some evidence that acupuncture can work too.
Sometimes it can seem as if there are as many treatments for back pain in the world as there are backs. GPs are likely to recommend physiotherapy, but the likes of osteopaths and acupuncturists offer various cures, from manipulation to needles. You’ll also come across more radical treatments such as laser therapy, interferential therapy, therapeutic ultrasound and TENS machines, but few have been proven conclusively to work.
Trapped or inflamed nerves can be treated with steroid or anaesthetic injections. Surgery is offered when every other remedy has failed. For prolapsed discs you may need a discectomy, where the damaged part of the disc is removed through a tiny incision in your back.