» How to beat back pain

Although rarely se­ri­ous, back pain is ex­tremely com­mon and can be frus­trat­ing. LIZ CONNOR gets ex­pert ad­vice

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS -

WHETHER it’s a dull ache af­ter lug­ging a heavy bag around all day, a tell­tale twinge while do­ing some heavy lift­ing in the gar­den, or the price of sit­ting at a desk day in, day out – back pain is never fun to deal with.

It is, how­ever, ex­tremely com­mon. Lower back pain

– known med­i­cally as ‘lum­bago’ – is one of the most com­mon rea­sons why peo­ple visit the doc­tor in the UK, and it’s es­ti­mated that up to eight in ev­ery 10 peo­ple are af­fected by it at some point in their lives.

For­tu­nately, in the ma­jor­ity of cases, back pain isn’t trig­gered by any­thing se­ri­ous and will usu­ally im­prove with time, and there are lots of mea­sures peo­ple can take to pre­vent or re­lieve symp­toms.

There are oc­ca­sions, though, when back pain can be a sign of an un­der­ly­ing cause that needs closer at­ten­tion and man­age­ment.

So, what are some of the warning signs and what should you do if you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing symp­toms?

Here, ex­perts ex­plain more...

WHY DOES IT HAP­PEN?

“LOWER back pain, or lum­bago, oc­curs when there is a prob­lem with lig­a­ments, mus­cles, discs, nerves or ver­te­brae – the bony struc­ture that makes up the spine,” says Dr Luke Powles, as­so­ciate clinical di­rec­tor of Bupa (bupa.co.uk), who as­sures that it’s an ex­tremely com­mon is­sue.

“Back pain that de­vel­ops quickly and lasts for less than three months is called ‘acute back pain’,” he adds.

Pain that goes on for longer than three months, mean­while, is clas­si­fied as ‘chronic back pain’ – and in­di­cates that any treat­ment car­ried out in the ini­tial three months has not been suc­cess­ful.

How­ever, this still doesn’t mean that there’s a se­ri­ous un­der­ly­ing med­i­cal cause – although the pain can be frus­trat­ing to live with.

“Three main causes of back pain are force, rep­e­ti­tion and in­ac­tiv­ity,” says Dr Powles. “Heavy lift­ing can lead to mus­cle or lig­a­ment strain re­sult­ing in painful mus­cle spasms, as can repet­i­tive move­ments such as twist­ing or bend­ing the spine.

“Sim­i­larly, bad pos­ture and sit­ting for long pe­ri­ods of time can have ill-ef­fect.”

Dr Powles ex­plains that sim­ple things like in­cor­rect or poor com­puter po­si­tion­ing and chair height (while work­ing at a desk, for ex­am­ple) can lead to back pain. If you are faced with these con­di­tions five days a week, your back pain may be­come an on­go­ing is­sue.

WHAT ARE THE SYMP­TOMS?

PAIN it­self is the most ob­vi­ous symp­tom. This can take many dif­fer­ent forms, in­clud­ing a dull ache, burn­ing sen­sa­tions, or sharp shoot­ing or ‘pulling’ pain.

While it’s very rarely dan­ger­ous, there are signs that there may be some­thing more se­ri­ous go­ing on – like nerve com­pres­sion/ir­ri­ta­tion or dam­age. So how do you know if this might be the case?

Dr Sarah Brewer, med­i­cal di­rec­tor at Healthspan (healthspan.co.uk), says: “Tell­tale signs include weakness or numb­ness in one or both legs, se­vere pain caus­ing im­mo­bil­ity, pains shoot­ing down the leg, dif­fi­culty with blad­der and bowel con­trol or pins and needles at the base of the spine or lower legs.”

If any of these symp­toms oc­cur, Dr Brewer ad­vises that you tell your doc­tor straight away.

If your symp­toms oc­cur fol­low­ing a trau­matic in­jury, it’s also vi­tal to get things checked as quickly as pos­si­ble, just to be on the safe side.

“Back pain due to more than a mi­nor in­jury or fall also needs in­ves­ti­ga­tion to rule out a frac­ture, slipped disc or other prob­lem af­fect­ing lo­cal nerves,” she says.

Plus, if you also ex­pe­ri­ence any sud­den se­vere loss of sen­sa­tion in the ‘sad­dle’ area (around the groin, gen­i­tals and but­tocks), suf­fer in­con­ti­nence, or find that you can’t empty your blad­der/bow­els, seek med­i­cal ad­vice im­me­di­ately, as this can be a sign of a very rare but se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tion of nerve com­pres­sion in the lower spine.

In some cases, lower back pain may also be as­so­ci­ated with arthri­tis (on­go­ing stiff­ness in the morn­ing can be a warning sign), or other med­i­cal prob­lems within the joints or spine. Any pain that’s se­vere, on­go­ing, get­ting worse and af­fect­ing your mo­bil­ity should be checked out by the doc­tor.

HOW CAN I RE­LIEVE BACK PAIN?

ALTHOUGH it may sound coun­ter­in­tu­itive at first, rest isn’t al­ways the best so­lu­tion. Of­ten, the best way to man­age back pain is to stay ac­tive, and in some cases painkiller­s may help, says Dr Powles.

“Many still be­lieve that long pe­ri­ods of lay­ing down will re­lieve symp­toms, but this is a myth. It may feel re­lax­ing at first, but pro­longed pe­ri­ods can make the pain worse,” he says.

Dr Powles sug­gests reg­u­lar low-im­pact ac­tiv­i­ties such as walk­ing or swim­ming, which can in­crease strength and build up en­durance in your back.

“Include ex­er­cises into your rou­tine that build mus­cle strength in your ab­domen and back; strength­en­ing your core will help al­le­vi­ate the pres­sure on your back,” he ad­vises.

Of course, if you have an acute in­jury, it’s al­ways best to seek suit­able ad­vice be­fore em­bark­ing on any new ex­er­cise regime. A phys­io­ther­a­pist, for ex­am­ple, will be able to as­sess the prob­lem and ad­vise on the course of ac­tion to take and any ac­tiv­i­ties to avoid while your in­jury heals. Pi­lates can be very ef­fec­tive for build­ing core strength and keep­ing mo­bile.

Thinking about your set-up at work and mak­ing pos­i­tive changes can make all the dif­fer­ence too.

“Good pos­ture when stand­ing for long pe­ri­ods of time and en­sur­ing your chair has good sup­port, are quick and easy ways re­duce stress on back mus­cles,” says Dr Powles.

“Walk­ing and tak­ing reg­u­lar breaks can also al­le­vi­ate the pain, but re­turn­ing to the same po­si­tion may bring the pain back, so try to change po­si­tions at your desk or swap your reg­u­lar desk for a stand­ing desk.”

Some peo­ple find re­lief through al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies, and pos­si­bly her­bal reme­dies too. How­ever, it’s im­por­tant to bear in mind – just be­cause sup­ple­ments and her­bal reme­dies are ‘nat­u­ral’ doesn’t mean they’re al­ways suit­able.

If you are tak­ing any other med­i­ca­tions, you should al­ways check with your doc­tor or pharm phar­ma­cist that it’s safe to tak take any new sup­ple­ments a at the same time.

If you are in­ter­ested in her­bal reme­dies, Dr Brewer sug­gests Devil’s Claw Join­taid Tablets (£16.95 for 60 tablets, h healthspan.co.uk), w which is de­rived from the ro root tuber of a South African plant and is a tra­di­tional her­bal medicine used to re­lieve back pain. It con­tains unique, anti-inflammato­ry, anal­gesic com­pounds such as harpago­side and harpagide that are be­lieved to help re­duce pain, in­flam­ma­tion and pos­si­bly im­prove mo­bil­ity.

Life­style changes might help too, such as tak­ing steps to avoid and man­age stress (a key fac­tor in many types of pain), main­tain­ing a healthy weight or tak­ing sen­si­ble steps to lose ex­cess weight, and mak­ing efforts to im­prove your pos­ture. Dr Brewer also sug­gests sleep­ing on a com­fort­able mattress, us­ing just one pil­low and wear­ing flat shoes.

If the pain doesn’t sub­side within a cou­ple of weeks, is get­ting worse or not re­spond­ing to self­man­age­ment or over-the-counter painkiller­s, visit your GP and/or check in with a phys­io­ther­a­pist.

Swim­ming is a great ex­er­cise for those suf­fer­ing from back pain

Dr Sarah Brewer

Lower back pain is very com­mon but you should see a doc­tor if pain is se­vere, on­go­ing, get­ting worse or af­fect­ing your mo­bil­ity

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