The back pain series is a number of articles for people suffering from what might have been described by your GP or health practitioner as non-specific or simple back pain. We will provide information, practical advice, exercises and strategies to reduce symptoms and limit the impact of back pain on our daily lives.
What is non-specific or simple low back pain?
We often associate pain with damage or injury. If we are hurting it is natural to assume something is torn, broken or a part of our body is not working as it should. This is frequently the case with Acute low back painin which we injure ourselves falling or lifting something too heavy. In acute back pain tissues such as muscles, ligaments, tendons or even joints are pushed beyond their limits causing damage, inflammation and pain. Depending on what is damaged acute back pain will usually recover within 3-6 weeks as tissues repair and inflammation reduces. Whilst we often worry whether we have ‘slipped a disc’, this is rare and only happens in 5% of back injuries. Pain usually resolves if you avoid painful or aggravating activities such as lifting, if you keep moving (pain and stiffness will usually increase if you remain still for too long either sitting or lying in bed) and a GP or pharmacist will frequently prescribe a mild pain killer or anti-inflammatory such Ibrufen to ease symptoms and help you move normally.
‘Non-specific low back pain’ (NSLBP) is very different. In NSLBP pain continues beyond a normal time frame for tissue healing and repair. Pain can come and go, with ‘flare-ups’ occurring in which relatively minor tasks can cause a major exacerbation of pain and stiffness. Doctors or health practitioners often struggle to identify which specific tissues damaged or what is the cause of pain and in most cases it is unclear why pain is not recovering. We will call this type of problem as chronic back pain.
Key point: In acute back pain, symptoms reflects the level of tissue damage and pain will usually resolve in 3-6 weeks given basic care. In chronic back pain levels of pain do not reflect tissue damage and pain and stiffness can fluctuate over many months or even years.
Certain factors appear to predispose or increase our likelihood of back pain. These factors include:
- Poor posture
- Joint stiffness
- Weak core muscles
- Excessive weight
- Excessive emotional stress
- Poor nutrition and hydration
- Too much time spent sitting