Low back pain (LBP) is thought to affect up to 60 to 80% of the Western population throughout the course of their life. Many people do not have any preceding events to cause this back pain, although specific injuries can also initiate their symptoms. Lower back pain constitutes almost half of all chronic pain. This has a huge effect on quality of life and people with LBP tend to have more time off work and higher of medical costs than those who do not have symptoms.
Sedentary lifestyles, increased body weight, reduced physical activity and poor postures are all contributing factors to LBP. Obesity rates in the western world have never been higher, and this is known to cause greater rates of musculoskeletal pain than ever before. Back pain can strike suddenly or build up slowly over a period of time. Many people report sudden and severe onset of back pain from a seemingly innocent movement. Others find that their back aches towards the end of the workday and follows a regular pattern. Thankfully, more and more workplaces are advocating for better ergonomic set-ups in order to pre-emptively reduce the incidence of LBP amongst employees.
Dealing with back pain is complicated as there are many treatments to choose from. Unfortunately, there is rarely a miracle cure that works for everyone. What research tells us is that effective and timely advice, thorough professional assessment and a tailored exercise program shows the best outcomes in the long term.
There are some cases where your physiotherapist or doctor will suggest that you have imaging such as an x-ray or MRI. While imaging can be helpful in ruling out serious injuries it is important to realise that if everyone was to have an MRI of their spine, it is reasonable to expect that most people would have changes in the appearance of their spines, even if they don’t have any pain or other symptoms. The take-home message is that scans do not always paint an accurate picture of what is happening within a person’s back.
The back is made up of a number of different structures that work together to achieve the required movements needed to perform daily activities. With such a complex combination of tissues and joints, aches and pains can be caused by any number of structures. Keeping the muscles and joints of the spine strong and healthy can have a remarkable impact on pain levels regardless of the specific structure causing symptoms.
If you are suffering from back pain, speak to your physiotherapist for advice on how to best manage your symptoms. While no one can prevent back pain with 100% certainty, keeping active, avoiding smoking and maintaining a healthy relationship with alcohol and heavy labour, can reduce your chances of having low back pain.
None of the information in this post is a replacement for proper medical advice. Always see a medical professional for advice on your individual condition.