NHS England reports back pain to be “the largest single cause of disability in the UK”, so knowing what to do if you are experiencing back pain is really important. I am frequently asked “how long will it take to settle down”, “if it hurts should I stop moving” and “should I rest in bed”?
So what should you do?
Most low back pain is what we call Mechanical Low Back Pain, which means it stems from the muscles, joints and soft tissue around the spine. It is often centred in the lower back and doesn’t go into the legs. Mechanical Low Back Pain usually settles down within a few weeks or so and resting for more than a few days can actually make the situation worse. As you rest the muscles around your spine can start to get weaker and the joints in the spine a bit stiffer. This can make movement more difficult and in turn have an adverse effect on the pain. Research has shown that for the majority of cases the best way to manage Mechanical Low Back Pain is through exercise. Doing gentle exercises, as far as you are able, and gradually building up. It is fine to continue with your normal activities but do so within your limits of pain and build back up to your regular exercise levels. Some people may find heat helpful to reduce muscle spasm and ease pain. For example, a wheat pack that is warm, not too hot, applied for 10 minutes can help to relax the muscles around the back*.
What happens if I have pain into my leg, often referred to as Sciatica?
I would always advise that you seek advice from a health professional such as a Physiotherapist or your GP if you are experiencing pain into your leg. Especially if there is any weakness in the muscles, pins and needles, numbness or the pain goes into both legs. They will be able to assess what is causing the pain and give you more specialist advice. Even with leg symptoms we encourage people to keep as mobile as possible, moving as pain allows and not rest in bed. Local application of heat or cold may help to reduce pain.* If you are uncomfortable at night placing a pillow long ways between the knees when lying on your side can help keep the spine in a good position and make you more comfortable. Back pain associated with leg pain can take a little longer to settle down and may last for 4-6 weeks. If your symptoms worsen, are not settling or the pain goes into both legs, seek advice.
*Care: When applying heat or cold place a towel on your back to protect the skin and test the temperature on an unaffected area.
What Exercises Can I Do?
It is important to keep the back flexible and the muscles that support the spine strong.
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Remember: The best way to prevent recurrence is to keep fit and keep moving. Pilates can be a great way to maintain and increase movement in the spine as well as strengthening the muscles. One of the most important things is to choose a form of exercise that you enjoy. After all, if you don’t enjoy it, you won’t stick at it!
This article should not be taken as any form of diagnosis or a substitute for medical advice. These exercises are designed to gently mobilise the spine and should not increase your pain. If you are in any doubt or your symptoms change, seek advice from a Health Professional.