There are lots of reasons for getting back pain: poor sitting posture, excessive driving, heavy lifting, lack of stretching – even the wrong footwear! These activities put a strain on the back muscles which can cause them to tense up leading to pain. Sometimes the muscles will stay tight for weeks, months and even years after the event leading to the pain – the length of time in pain can vary depending not only on the severity of the injury but what we do next once we feel pain. Leaving back pain untreated often worsens the issue and makes recovery even longer.
Sometimes, back pain is severe and causes referred pain – pain that goes into the buttocks or down the legs even into the feet or toes. When pressure is put onto the sciatic nerve this can cause severe pain, pins and needles and numbness down the legs. The cause of this pain can vary from a disc prolapse, tight muscles or joint impingement.
What can I do to help my back pain?
Fortunately, there are lots of ways of helping your back pain, whether it has just started or whether it is chronic and you have had it for years.
Get a clear diagnosis from a Physiotherapist!
Getting a clear diagnosis from a specialist is essential in being able to work out what treatment or exercises will help you specifically – a muscle strain, for example, is treated differently from a disc prolapse. Don’t take any chances with the health of your back. Quite often, it can be something of nothing, but in the cases that it isn’t, there’s no better place to go than a Physiotherapist.
If your back pain is severe there are some things you can do immediately, such as taking painkillers. Most people don’t want to take painkillers, but from a Physiotherapy point of view, they can be helpful. Firstly you will be in less pain – a good reason in itself! Secondly, if you are in less pain you may be able to move more freely which can help free up the muscles and joints around the back, speeding up recovery.
Using heat on your back can give some immediate relief: hot water bottles, wheat bags, a hot bath or shower, even going to the sauna. Heat works in two ways – it literally takes the pain away because the body thinks that heat (and cold) signals are more important than pain signals. Heat also helps relax back muscles which is a common cause of pain. TENS machines also work in a similar way – they are a little box which emits electrical signals to the skin that overrides pain signals and can encourage the body to reduce pain signals to the affected area. Often people benefit from heat in the short term, but it does not resolve symptoms, which often requires more active treatment.
Treatment options used by Physiotherapists include massage, joint mobilisation, home exercises, acupuncture, laser therapy and taping. We will use anything that will help you get better! Massage and acupuncture are useful in releasing tight muscles. Joint mobilisation helps to free up stiff joints and restricted nerves. Stretching exercises help to keep the muscles and joints freed up. Laser therapy is helpful in speeding up the healing process for muscle strains. Taping is also a useful technique to prevent movements that may cause pain or encourage muscles that are underused. We also plan your recovery so that you are aware of what is needed and when. You are able to measure your rehabilitation and focus on your recovery goals.
All back conditions benefit from working on your posture. Most of us know this but it is hard to maintain. A few tips: when using a computer try to sit upright as possible without straining your back. Try increasing the height of your monitor to eye level or getting a laptop raiser with a separate keyboard/mouse. If you are able to tilt your seat slightly forward this can help. How about sitting on a wobble cushion – this is an air-filled cushion that helps you tilt your hips forward and encourages you to sit up straight. You can start by using it for short periods e.g. 10 minutes at a time until your core strength builds up and you don’t need it any longer.
If you work at a desk or do a lot of driving you will also benefit from regular opportunities to move around even if for a few minutes. Some people find using a sit and standing desk helpful to alternate postures without the need to stop working. A simple exercise like walking can be useful to loosen your back up, sometimes it doesn’t need more rest.
Strengthening our core back muscles
For many people, poor posture has led to a weakening of postural muscle. These are smaller muscles which help us sit or stand up straight. Often, they get weak from excessive amounts of time sitting – at a desk or driving. It can be useful to be assessed by a Physiotherapist to check your core strength and learn some core strengthening exercises. Generally, these are Pilate’s exercises. If you want to develop core strength as well as flexibility one of our Pilates courses may be for you.
T-ai Chi and Yoga also work on core strength, flexibility and relaxation. Learning to relax can also help reduce our tension and back pain. Alexander technique classes are an excellent way of learning more about posture and reducing back tension through relaxation.