Back pain is very common. Most people will suffer one or more episodes of back pain during their lives. In many cases, it starts suddenly and gets better quickly, without the need for any treatment.
However, back pain can be painful, debilitating and persistent, and some people suffer repeated episodes. It can also be associated with other symptoms, such as leg pain or sciatica. It may start following a specific incident, such as bending awkwardly or lifting a heavy weight. Or it can develop gradually, perhaps as a result of poor posture, an uncomfortable work position or repetitive strain.
There are many different types of back pain, with different causes. The key to getting the right treatment is to establish which type of back pain you may be suffering from and to seek advice if it is not improving.
The majority of people with back pain are suffering from what is known as ‘simple’ or ‘mechanical’ back pain. This means that the pain is not related to any serious underlying condition and there are no trapped or compressed nerves. We do not always know the exact tissues that are involved in simple back pain. Muscles, joints and ligaments can all be involved. Simple back pain can be caused by poor posture, prolonged sitting in an uncomfortable position, and even muscular tension due emotional or work-related stress.
As we get older, wear and tear may contribute to back pain. The shock-absorbing pads or discs between the bones of the back can narrow with age and this can cause stiffness, pain and make it difficult to move.
Simple back pain is relatively common. Less frequently, the nerves of the back can sometimes become irritated, compressed or trapped. Again, there can be many reasons why this happens, but slipped discs or wear and tear can lead to pain spreading down the leg, which is commonly referred to as sciatica. This can be accompanied by pins and needles, tingling, numbness and weakness in all or part of the leg and foot.
Chiropractors are best known for manual treatments such as spinal manipulation, where they use their hands to free stiff or restricted joints, or mobilisation, which is the gradual moving of joints. But they may also use other recommended treatments such as certain types of traction, acupuncture, electrotherapy, stretching exercises and rehabilitation, all of which form part of a chiropractor’s package of care. Your chiropractor may also offer lifestyle advice to help recovery and to prevent repeated episodes of back pain.
If your chiropractor does not think you can be helped by chiropractic treatment, you may be referred back to your GP or to another health professional. Chiropractors do not prescribe medication, so if this is needed, you may be referred back to your GP. As chiropractors support a joined-up approach to care, they may ask if they can send a brief report to your GP.
Many people who suffer long-term back pain benefit from regular, supportive chiropractic care to reduce the risk of recurrent episodes.