The back is a complex structure consisting of vertebrae (24 small bones), discs, ligaments, tendons, nerves, muscles and the spinal cord. The lower part of your back is known as the lumbar region, which is made up of five vertebrae, known as L1, L2, L3, L4 and L5. Supporting the entire weight of your upper body, the lumbar spine is under constant pressure, particularly when you are bending, twisting and lifting.
Lower back pain, also known as lumbago, affects seven out of 10 people at some time in their lives but is more common between 35 and 55 years of age. Coming on suddenly or gradually, lower back pain results in pain or ache on in between the bottom of your ribs to the top of your legs. Sometimes localised, lower back pain can also refer pain to other areas of your legs including buttocks, groin, outside of legs, knee, shin, calf, ankles and toes.
Generally, back pain is categorised as:
- Acute – where your back pain occurs suddenly and lasts for less than three months, and
- Chronic – where your back pain develops gradually, lasts for more than 12 weeks, and causes long-term problems.
The complex structure of your lower back means that even small amounts of damage to any part of the lumbar region can cause a lot of pain and discomfort. Although it may have many causes, pain in your lower back is often a symptom of stress or damage to your ligaments, muscles, tendons or discs or nerves. In some cases, if a nerve in your back is pinched or irritated, the pain can spread to your buttocks and thighs travelling down your leg. This is known as sciatica (see more about sciatica).
With lower back pain, try to keep moving and mobile.While resting may provide some temporary relief from your symptoms, prolonged rest will make your symptoms worse. It’s important to remain as physically active as possible. This can be done by walking, gentle movements and stretches. Do not do any lifting. If you do, you’re likely to strain the back further.
Apply an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel to the base of your spine for five minutes. Shortly followed by 15 minutes of heat using a hot water bottle. This will help reduce inflammation. Use painkillers and anti-inflammatories if directed, but stick to the recommended dosages and read the packet to ensure they’re suitable for you. A TENS machine may also help to reduce and control pain without the use of medication.
When experiencing persistent back pain, it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Through a musculoskeletal assessment you will be able to understand the structures in your back that may be damaged as well identifying any contributing causes that resulted in your back pain.
Through hands on treatment including manual mobilisation, manipulation, massage and rehabilitation, a qualified specialist will be able to increase your range of movement as well as effectively reducing your pain. Through functional rehabilitation, they will be able to teach you exercises that strengthen the muscles that support your back, as well as improving the flexibility of your spine. Through education and support, we can also teach you how to improve your posture and reduce any future strain on your back.