Back pain is a very common problem that most people will experience at some point. It has many different causes, but can often be treated very successfully. The causes of back pain can include various types of minor injuries, particularly those caused by bending awkwardly or improperly lifting heavy objects. Bad posture can also cause back pain over a prolonged period. Some other conditions, such as ankylosing spondylitis can also result in back pain, but this is much less common and often involves other symptoms too. In most cases of back pain, the cause will simply be a minor strain or a pinched or irritated nerve.
Back pain can feel like an ache, stiffness, or tension that may occur at any point along the spine, from the neck to the hips. It most often affects the lower back. The pain can sometimes extend into other parts of the body, such as the legs, arms and chest. Some specific types of back pain can be linked to particular conditions.
For example, pain in the lower back that moves down into the buttocks and legs could be a result of sciatica, while lower back pain associated with muscle tightness or weakness could indicate a slipped disk. The joints of the back can also be affected by various forms of arthritis, which will tend to create pain that is strongest in the morning.
Most cases of back pain will be cured within a few months and are not linked to any more serious conditions, but it is still important to talk to your doctor if you are experiencing severe or very prolonged pain. You should also see your doctor if your back pain is accompanied by other symptoms, as it could indicate that there is an underlying cause that needs to be treated.
Your GP may recommend that you see a rheumatologist if they suspect that you could be suffering from a condition such as sciatica, a slipped disk, or ankylosing spondylitis, or if your symptoms are particularly severe. Your doctor will also be able to advise you on how you can treat your back pain at home.
Back pain can often be treated with simple home remedies, including painkillers, icing or heating pads. It usually helps to remain as active as possible while the back heals, so it is best for people with back pain to continue with their usual routine as much as they can rather than resting in bed. If the pain is very bad or if it lasts longer than about six weeks, extra help may be needed.
Rheumatologists may be able to prescribe stronger medication to relieve the pain or to refer patients on to other medical professionals who can help. A physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath can often relieve back pain through manual therapy, while some people find that acupuncture can be helpful. In the most serious cases, surgery may need to be considered, but this is very rare. Treating back pain is more often a matter of simply giving the back time to heal.