This month, in honour of Spinal Health Week which fell on the last week of May, our superstar physio Ethan Ashley has taken the time to walk us through lumbar (low back) pain. To find out more, or to book in with Ethan, give us a call (02) 6179 5814 or follow the links on our website to make a booking!
Low back pain is up there with the most common pains that a person can experience. Statistically speaking, at some time in your life you will likely experience back pain at one point or another. Like most things though, low back pain is on a spectrum. There are those occasional niggling aches that come on once every now and then, and there are those nasty back spasms that knock you off your feet and make even simple movements agonising.
We see both ends of the spectrum at Origin and one of the first things we do is educate people about their pain, because depending on the severity, low back pain can be really frightening and induce a load of anxiety. In this blog I wanted to explain a few things about back pain that will hopefully take some of the mystery and anxiety out of the equation.
The odds are in your favour!
I see many people who are very scared about their back pain. For some of them it is their first time experiencing such a debilitating type of pain. Depending on the severity, you may not even be able to walk upright or be able to sit in a chair without serious pain. An important thing to remember is that despite what your body is telling you, odds are that you haven’t done yourself serious damage. Our backs often go into protective mode to stop us from moving and causing further “damage”, but the damage is not usually as significant as you may think. That is, nothing is likely to be broken, torn or ripped up. Rather, your muscles have contracted (in a very painful way) to stop you from turning a minor injury into a major one. Another thing to remember is that for 90% of people who experience low back pain, their pain will be gone within 1-2 weeks. Even if the pain is nasty, it is most likely that the pain is very temporary and so long as you do the right things, it is only going to hang around for a short while. The flipside to this is that once you experience back pain once, you are much more likely to experience it again.
So, what are the right things?
There are a few things that you can do to help ensure your back recovers in as quick a time as possible.
Keep moving Movement is of paramount importance with back pain. Even if it hurts a bit, it is worth getting up and walking around where possible. If that is too painful, movements completed in sitting or on your back are better than nothing. A key thing to remember with movement is that if the movement does not hurt, then that is usually the best movement to do. For instance, if it hurts bending forward and to the left side, but not with bending to the right side or bending backwards, then focus on the painless movements and avoid the painful ones (while the pain is most severe).
Heat Heat is another option for low back pain – it can help with relaxing the muscles that are spasming and can provide some temporary pain relief. So get yourself a heat pack or two and put that bad boy on those sore spasming muscles.
Physiotherapy And of course, physiotherapy is an excellent option to help manage low back pain in both the short and long term. As mentioned above, if you experience back pain once, you are likely to experience that again. Physiotherapy will help with the short-term pain using hands on techniques (massage, mobilisations, stretching, pain education) and can also help to prevent pain in the long term with the development of an exercise plan to strengthen muscles and treat the root cause of your pain. Remember, treating the root cause of your pain is key! If you put a band aid on it, it will be more likely to return.
Ways to prevent low back pain
Taking a proactive approach to prevent low back pain occurring at all is something that is key to your long term health and wellbeing. And it's pretty simple, but you'll just need to find consistency.
Regular exercise Regular exercise and physical activity are some of the most effective tools for back pain prevention. If you sit all day, do your best to break up that sitting every 30-45 minutes. If you haven’t moved all day, go for a walk. Remember to use your common sense though – if you haven’t exercised properly in a few years, it’s probably not a good idea to jump into doing a hundred squats a day.
Seek professional advice At the end of the day, our backs are resilient and can take quite a bit of hard work, but like anything, if you push it too hard without having good underlying strength, this is where injuries occur. Prevention is always better than finding a cure, so keeping your back and body strong and supple will make all the difference. Make sure you get a professional opinion on the strategies that would be best for your body and how to find a happy medium where you can sit in an office all day, but then be able to landscape the backyard on the weekend (or whatever activity it is that you want to be able to do).
Should I go to the hospital?
There are times where low back pain may warrant a trip to the hospital. Usually if you have had any high impact trauma (e.g. falling and landing hard on the back, car accident) then we would definitely recommend that you check to see whether you have broken a bone in your back. This is especially true if you are an older individual as you are likely to have lower bone density. Other times to seek immediate medical assistance would be if you suddenly lose control over your bladder or bowels or if you lose sensation around your pelvic region or into both of your legs. This can be a sign that of a more serious injury that requires urgent medical attention. Fortunately, this type of condition is very rare, and you are incredibly unlikely to experience this without explanation. If you haven’t experienced any of the above, then it’s a trip to your friendly neighbourhood physio (and potentially some good pain meds).
Even if you do everything right, sometimes back pain can happen. The important thing to remember is that for the majority of people, back pain is temporary. When we worry about how bad our back pain is, it can act like pouring oil onto the flames of our pain and can make us feel much worse. And while it certainly sucks when it happens, do your best not to stress over it. It happens to a lot of people, and we as physios have plenty of tricks up our sleeves to manage it!
Ethan has been with Origin since January 2020, having previously worked for seven years as a Remedial Massage Therapist. He has a special interest in chronic or long term neck, back and headache pain. Read more here!