Back Pain

Muscle Strains and Ligament Sprains

Most people will experience back pain at one point or another throughout their life. Sometimes it lasts a few days but occasionally it can become more chronic. Muscles and ligaments become damaged if they are stretched too far or are overloaded by lifting. When tissues are damaged, the surrounding muscles can spasm, pulling joints into abnormal positions. If left untreated this can lead to weakness and imbalances in the muscles. The many nerves that exit the spine at these levels also cause pain in other areas of the body.

Causes may be due to lifting heavy objects, especially if the back is not used to this, repeatedly bending forward and falls. It is important that you get a professional to examine your back quickly so appropriate advice can be given to speed your recovery.

Initial Advice:
Ice for 10-15 mins, initially for the first 2-3 days, then either use alternate hot and cold packs or just hot packs to relax muscles.
After taking it easy for a few days, slowly start increasing your activity. Studies have shown that bed rest does not improve recovery times.
Make sure your back is well supported when seated.

Always remember that we recommend seeking medical advice from your GP or from one of our osteopaths regarding your problem.

Slipped Disc/Disc Prolapse

Most people think of someone experiencing a sudden pain in the lower back after lifting a heavy object as having ‘slipped a disc’. In fact less than 1 in 20 cases of acute (sudden onset) back pain is due to a prolapsed disc. The most likely source of the back pain is due to ligament and muscle injury. (see above).

Why do some people develop a prolapsed disc and not others, even when they do the same job or lift the same sort of objects? It may be due to how that person moves or lifts (lifting using the back more than the legs). Some people have a weakness in the outer part of the affected disc. Causes can range from sneezing, awkward bending and heavy lifting causing extra pressure on the disc. In reality it is likely to be a number of factors that after continued pressure on the vertebrae, causes a weakness in the disc. This may lead to a disc prolapse that gradually gets worse over time.

Factors that may increase the risk of developing a prolapsed disc include:
A job involving lots of lifting,
Sitting for long periods (especially driving),
Weight-bearing sports (weight lifting, etc),
Smoking,
Obesity, and
Increasing age.

Back pain is the most common symptom, ranging from a dull ache to severe pain. A sign that it may be a disc, is pain on sneezing or coughing. Nerve root pain is pain that occurs because a nerve coming from the spinal cord is pressed on (trapped) by a prolapsed disc, or is irritated by the inflammation caused by the prolapsed disc. This commonly affects the sciatic nerve causing sciatica (click here for more information regarding sciatica). Initial symptoms may be pain down a leg to the calf or foot. Nerve root pain can range from mild to severe, but it is often worse than the back pain.

Cauda Equina Syndrome – rare, but an emergency

Cauda equina syndrome is a particularly serious type of nerve root problem that can be caused by a prolapsed disc. It is a rare disorder where the nerves at the very bottom of the spinal cord are compressed. This syndrome can cause low back pain plus problems with bowel and bladder function (usually inablity to pass urine), numbness in the saddle area and weakness in one or both legs. It needs urgent treatment to stop the nerves to the bladder and bowel from becoming permanently damaged. See a doctor immediately if you develop these symptoms.

Viscero-Somatic Pain

Sometimes back pain can be a secondary effect of organ conditions such as kidneys and lungs. One very well known pattern is pain down the left arm, which can be linked to the functioning of the heart. Other patterns can also be created by conditions like endometriosis, kidney stones, appendicitis and many more. In fact, almost all organ pains are associated with other referred pains in the body due to the cross over of nerve signals in the spine. Every vertebral level of the spine is connected to one or more organs. This is called the sympathetic nervous system. For example, people who have asthma can have symptoms in their mid thoracic spine, and women experiencing period pains can have symptoms in their lower back and/or radiation down their legs.