Low back pain is a huge problem – just look at the statistics. Every year almost fifty percent of adults in Britain will get an episode of low back pain. 80% of adults can expect to get back pain at some point in their life. The NHS spends more than £1 billion on back related costs every year. Pain may strike suddenly as you bend to pick something up and can be so sharp it takes your breath away. Pain may develop slowly over a few days for no particular reason. As it was National Back Care Awareness recently, now is a good time to consider whether you know what to do if, or when, back pain strikes.
The important thing is not to panic as 95% of episodes of low back pain will get better in anything from a few days to three months. However, it is always sensible to consider whether it may be serious, remembering that fewer than 1% of people with back pain have a serious underlying problem. If you have any concerns it is always sensible to seek professional advice particularly if you feel unwell, if you have been in an accident, and certainly if you develop numbness or loss of strength in one or both legs, numbness in your groin or alteration in bladder and bowel function. Help can be obtained from your GP, NHS Direct or your local Physiotherapist
Movement is usually the key to recovery. If pain is severe and you really cannot control it, bed rest is acceptable but only for 48 hours. Any longer than this and you will get worse and have a longer recovery time. Aim to keep moving gently with periods of rest in a position of comfort. This is usually lying down on your front, back or side. Sitting should be avoided as this position puts most strain on the low back.
As movement is so important for recovery it is sensible to seek advice from your local Pharmacist or GP on medication that is appropriate for you to help control pain and inflammation thus making it easier for you to move.
For the first 72 hours an ice pack can help with low back pain just as it can with any other soft tissue injury. After 3 days of pain, heat can be more effective.
This management programme of relative rest, gentle movement, appropriate medication and use of ice and / or heat should bring the severe pain under control. It does not have the “instant fix” effect anyone with back pain so desperately wants, but you should certainly see an improvement in acute symptoms in 3 – 4 days. The sharpness of the pain tends to settle becoming dull in nature.
Movements generally become more stiff and less painful. Now is the time to start gentle exercises, always avoiding activities which cause pain. Walking is usually a good way to start. Your local Physiotherapist will be able to give more specific advice on which exercises are best for you to regain both mobility and strength which will aid recovery and help prevent recurring episodes. Don’t lie down to back pain and chances are you’ll beat it!
McNaughton Physiotherapy Team October 2008