Suffering with back pain is undeniably unpleasant. It can impact your work, family, sport and recreation as well as your mood.
The professional information on this page and completing the short self-assessment questions might be a helpful start in making sense of the pain you are experiencing.
Your back is not alone.
Back pain doesn’t have to be scary. You are not alone and the outlook doesn’t have to be bleak.
Despite what you might feel like today, your back pain is rarely the result of a truly serious underlying problem. In fact, in the vast majority of cases you actually can and will get better.
How can we know this? Because it is what the researchers who study back pain have found and it is also my (Matt Lancaster) experience from over twenty-five years as a physiotherapist working with people with back pain. What’s more, how you manage your back pain does not usually need to involve expensive scans or fancy treatment techniques.
Simple approaches can and do work.
Red Flags.Occasionally pain may be an indication of a more serious, underlying condition. Doctors and physiotherapists will ask a series of Red Flag questions to help guide their decision making but it is important to realise that Red Flags do not necessarily mean you have a serious underlying disorder, simply that you should consult your doctor for further assessment.
It’s quite normal to feel a bit down or worried when you have pain and you shouldn’t feel guilty for this. However, what you believe, think and feel about your pain can have consequences on your recovery in very real ways.
These are sometimes referred to as Yellow Flags and should be discussed with a caring professional who takes the time to listen to you and understand your fears and concerns.
Have I injured a nerve?
Are you also experiencing leg pain?
This pain can be referred from your back or involve inflammation or injury to the nerves leaving your spine and is often worse than the pain in your back.
This sort of pain is sometimes called sciatica.
So, what should you do?
With a little knowledge, you can make some choices.
If you have concerns that you have Red Flags, nerve related symptoms or Yellow Flags, you should seek further assessment from an experienced physiotherapist or your doctor. This can be done in person or effectively over telehealth.
No Red Flags and you don’t think you’ve injured a nerve?
So what’s causing the pain?
The most common type of back pain is localised to your low back region. This is referred to as Non-specific low back pain. Why? Because we don’t always know what specifically is causing the pain. A disc? Muscle? Joint? If we are honest, we can’t always tell so beware of people (including professionals) who give you overly complicated, specific and scary explanations of why your back hurts.
What we do know is that the amount of pain you feel is a poor indication of the amount of damage in your back. It can actually be more helpful to think in simple terms, such as a strained or sensitive back, than to get bogged down in an overly complicated diagnosis or explanation that might not be correct anyway. Keeping it simple can actually make your recovery easier.
Non-specific back pain
Don’t feel you’re getting better?
Sometimes you do need more help and support to return to participating in the things that make life worthwhile.
An experienced physiotherapist should act as a coach, helping you:
- address the fears or concerns you have about your back
- guide your understanding of your pain
- help you determine the rehabilitation approach you are most able to perform and believe will help (there is no single magic exercise for everyone).
If you would like to learn more about Specialist Physiotherapist Matt Lancaster FACP and how to book an individual consultation:
A final thought.
You may well have bulging discs in your spine, but so do a lot of people who don’t experience back pain. You may also have one leg a bit shorter than the other, believe you have terrible posture, been told you have a weak or lazy core, have gluteal muscles that are not active and don’t even work, that your spine is locked, your pelvis is out and your alignment is wonky, that your ying is at odds with your yang or that your fascia needs releasing because you are so tight it’s amazing you can even function and if someone doesn’t adjust your spine every week for the next twelve months you’ll probably end up in a wheel chair!
Have you ever wondered what any of these things mean? Or if they are even real? How many people believe, or are told they have these problems but don’t experience your pain?
There are thousands of fancy approaches, magic treatments and bold claims on the internet. Not many of them are well supported by research, but most of them have the potential to cost you a lot of money. Health care should be delivered ethically. And sometimes keeping it simple and evidence-based is the best, most cost-effective thing we can do to help.