85% of people will experience back pain at some stage during their lives. Lower back pain is by far the most common condition we see at East Coast Physio.
Five bones (vertebrae) make up the lumbar spine (lower back). Between the vertebrae are discs, which act as shock absorbers. There are two facet joints between each vertebra which allow movement forwards, backwards and side to side. There are many muscles acting on the lumbar spine and a number of strong ligaments which stabilise it.
The most common causes of low back pain are muscle strains, ligament sprains, facet joint issues and disc bulges. Low back pain can come on suddenly, or it can build up gradually over a period of time.The good news is that Physiotherapy is very effective for treating low back pain. Early diagnosis and treatment helps you to recover quickly and prevent a recurrence.
Most common causes of low back pain:
- Muscle strains are the most common injury. These can occur if your back is tired or weak, if there is excessive strain put though your back or if you have a poor lifting technique.
- Ligament sprains – your ligaments are responsible for restricting the amount of movement at your lower back. They can get strained if you stretch them too far or too quickly. Poor lifting technique, sports injuries and car accidents can all cause ligament sprains.
- Disc bulges can occur when there is excessive pressure on a certain area of the disc, causing it to bulge at the edge. Disc bulges vary in severity. A severe disc bulge can cause a nerve irritation, which can result in pain and altered sensation in your leg.
- Posture: low back pain which is related to posture tends to creep up on you gradually over time. It often worsens as the day goes on and you may find it difficult to sit or stand for long periods of time
Physiotherapy treatment for low back pain
Stage 1: Protection and pain relief
In the early stages, your physiotherapist will often use soft tissue massage, joint mobilisations and taping to help relieve your pain. We often recommend taking some pain relief at this stage and staying as mobile as possible, as this will help to speed up your recovery. Bed rest is not usually recommended, but it is ok to lie down in your most comfortable position for 30-40 minutes at intervals during the day.
Stage 2: Mobilisation and strengthening.
Once the initial pain and inflammation has settled, it is time to restore normal movement and strength to your lower back. The sooner you can get your back gently moving, the better. Hands on therapy can be really beneficial at this stage. Your physiotherapist will identify any strength and movement deficits you may have and prescribe you specific exercises to address these deficits.
Stage 3: Return to full function. This third and final stage focuses on restoring your back’s function back to normal, to safely allow you to return to work, sport and general daily activities. Preventing a re-occurrence is top priority, and it is important that you continue to work on some specific strengthening exercises, even after your pain has gone.
How can you prevent lower back pain?
There are no guarantees, but active individuals, who exercise regularly have the best chance of avoiding lower back pain. Safe lifting techniques and correct posture also reduce your risk.