Compiled by Greg Gibson, Physiotherapist. To book an appointment with one of our highly-trained physios, CLICK HERE.
Low back pain is something nobody wants to experience but unfortunately, it is more common than you realise. It is one of the most disabling disorders in the Western world with an enormous personal, social and economic burden. At some point in their life 50-80% of the adult population will experience back pain and 40% can have back pain in any one year. But rather than having a negative outlook towards back pain, it is important to try and understand it a little more and realise that back pain is normal with periods of recurrence and persistent symptoms being common. When someone experiences back pain, whether it be new pain or persistent pain, there is a belief that there is a significant weakness associated with this pain or that there is a damaged structure causing this pain. Now occasionally this is true, but generally serious general health conditions or serious disc-related nerve compression comprises less than 10% of cases.
The increased availability of scans has also led to an increase in the reporting of low back pain. The majority of the population, if scanned, would show some form of change in the lumbar spine, but that doesn’t mean those changes are abnormal. It also doesn't mean they will have pain or disability associated with these changes. Therefore relying too heavily on scans can add to the stress and anxiety of back pain, which are both big psychological drivers of pain. The belief that back pain is due to damaged structures is not necessarily true.
In a lot of cases, lower back pain can be caused by a relatively innocuous movement or can come on over time without any specific incident causing it. This pain, whether it be disc related, joint-related, muscle or ligament related, may sometimes settle as quickly as it came on. However, more often than not, it takes a little time to do so. During this time it can cause changes in things such as the tone of the surrounding muscles and increased rigidity of movement patterns to try and “protect” the back. This can involve common patterns which we see including sitting rigidly upright or pre-tensing your abs/back before moving which there is very little evidence for. There is a need for certain levels of control however too much will lead to increased pain. Along with these changes people become fearful of movement and are afraid to exercise due to pain. All these aspects in turn can lead to more stress and pain on an already painful structure. This in turn adds to the cycle of stress anxiety and pain and can also impact on sleeping patterns which in turn delays recovery and increases pain.
Like any injury, there are certain risk factors that can lead to a person being more susceptible to low back pain. Broadly, these can include individual risk factors which include a history of back pain or certain lifestyle factors such as a sedentary lifestyle. Physical risk factors include things such as prolonged postural stresses through awkward or high load postures, prolonged or frequent bending and heavy or frequent lifting. Psychological risk factors are also a big trigger when it comes to this form of injury/pain. These include beliefs such as the back is a vulnerable structure, that it’s weak and not allowed to move freely and that low back pain is unchangeable, to name a few.
To try and prevent low back pain there are certain strategies that can be adopted in order to limit the individual, physical and psychological risk factors.
Hopefully some of this information will help you to possibly understand lower back pain and how you can limit or deal with it in a more proactive positive manner.
A personalised assessment and diagnosis from an expert Physiotherapist are always essential in order to properly diagnose and identify factors possibly leading to your injury - and then to plan out your individual recovery plan.
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