Managing back pain

Back pain is a very common problem. Over 85 percent of the population will suffer from back pain over the course of their lifetime.

Thankfully, back pain can usually be managed and controlled. Our self-help quick guide below can help put you in control of your own back problem.

Understanding your back pain

The first step in relieving your back pain is to understand the mechanics of your back. If you can determine where the pain is coming from, you are on your way to taking control and finding relief.

Your spine extends from the base of your skull to the top of your pelvis. The bones of your back are called vertebrae. Between each vertebra are discs which are fibrous, jelly-filled shock absorbers that allow the spine to stay flexible while supporting your body weight and the weight of anything you lift. Other important components of your back are joints that link each vertebrae to the one above and the one below.

Your spinal cord lies within a continuous body tunnel known as the spinal canal. It is made up of rings of bone attached to the back of each vertebra. Branches from the cord exit the canal between adjacent vertebrae and create the nerves that travel throughout the body. The nerves that allow your spine to feel pain are the same nerves that cause your limbs to feel pain. When signals originating from a disc or back joint are felt down your leg or arm, we call it referred pain. This effect is common and typical of most mechanical back problems. This type of pain is different from that of a pinched nerve, which can also travel into the arms or legs but is far less common.

Four easy steps to identify your pattern

It’s important to know that if you are among the vast majority of back pain sufferers, you are probably experiencing a mechanical problem.

This means that the source of your symptoms is likely to be coming from one of the spine’s physical components:

  • the bones
  • the discs or
  • the joints.

The good news is that mechanical back pain almost always falls into one of the four common patterns of pain. Once you recognise your typical pattern, you can take steps on your own to quickly reduce pain.

Simple ways to reduce your pain

Now that you’ve identified your particular pattern of pain, we’ll show you some simple ways to control your symptoms and get back to normal.

For fast relief

  • Lie face down on the floor for a few minutes every hour. If necessary, place a pillow(s) under your stomach to reduce your back or buttock pain.
  • To relieve pain, sit down and bend forward or try doing the ‘knee to chest’ stretch.
  • In the acute stage, try lying in a pain relieving position regularly throughout the day. Long term bed rest is not recommended.
  • When you feel pain in your legs, stop the activity, sit down and lean forward until it subsides.

Daily tips

  • When sitting, use a straight- back chair and a five-inch lumber roll to support the curve in the lower back.
  • When working stooped over, take regular breaks to perform sloppy pushups.
  • When standing, place one foot on a box, step or rail. Alternate feet frequently.
  • Lie on your stomach, over a pillow(s) if necessary, and rest on your elbows. Alternatively lie on your back with your lower legs on the seat of a chair and your knees drawn up over your stomach.
  • Tighten your stomach muscles to maintain a pelvic tilt as you walk.

Need help?
Contact us to find our more about our specialist back institute programme.