Voluntary Action Calderdale and Public Health are producing a series of information bulletins aimed at raising awareness of various medical conditions. Their latest is focusing on back pain.
Back pain is a common problem that affects most people at some point in their life. It may be triggered by bad posture while sitting or standing, bending awkwardly, or lifting incorrectly. It’s not generally caused by a serious condition.
In most cases back pain will improve in a few weeks or months, although some people experience long-term pain or pain that keeps coming back.
Causes of back pain
Your back is a complex structure made up of bones, muscles, nerves and joints. This can often make it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain.
Most cases of back pain aren’t caused by serious damage or disease but by minor sprains, strains or injuries, or a pinched or irritated nerve. These types of back pain can be triggered by everyday activities at home or at work, or they can develop gradually over time.
Possible causes of back pain include:
- bending awkwardly or for long periods
- lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling heavy objects
- slouching in chairs
- twisting awkwardly
- driving or sitting in a hunched position or for long periods without taking a break
- overusing the muscles – for example, during sport or repetitive movements
- medical conditions – In a few cases your symptoms may suggest a specific medical condition is causing your back pain, for example: sciatica or a slipped or prolapsed disc, arthritis, frozen shoulder, whiplash
Rarely, back pain can be a sign of a serious condition such as a spinal fracture, an infection of the spine, or cancer. If you see your GP with back pain, they will look for signs of these conditions.
Who’s most at risk?
Certain things can increase your chances of developing back pain. These include:
- being overweight – the extra weight puts pressure on the spine
- smoking – this may be the result of tissue damage in the back caused by smoking or the fact that people who smoke tend to have unhealthier lifestyles than people who don’t smoke
- being pregnant – the extra weight of carrying a baby can place additional strain on the back
- long-term use of medication known to weaken bones – such as corticosteroids
- being stressed or depressed
What to do
Most cases of back pain get better on their own and you may not need to see a doctor however if you’re worried about your back or your pain does not subside it’s a good idea to visit your GP, who can advise you about the treatments available.
Preventing back pain
How you sit, stand, lie and lift can all affect the health of your back. Try to avoid placing too much pressure on your back and ensure it’s strong and supple.
Regular exercise, such as walking and swimming, is an excellent way of preventing back pain. Activities such as yoga or pilates can improve your flexibility and strengthen your back muscles. For more information on exercises for back pain follow this link.
Signs of a serious problem
You should seek urgent medical help if you have back pain and:
- a high temperature (fever)
- unexplained weight loss
- a swelling or a deformity in your back
- it’s constant and doesn’t ease after lying down
- pain in your chest
- loss of bladder or bowel control
- an inability to pass urine
- numbness around your genitals, buttocks or back passage
- it’s worse at night
- it started after an accident, such as after a car accident
These problems could be a sign of something more serious and need to be assessed as soon as possible.
Sources of Information
Carers & Back Pain
Carers are often exposed to higher than usual levels of physical and emotional stress which puts their own health at risk. Many carers help the person they care for with physical tasks, such as getting in and out of the bed, bath or chairs. In addition to this, the role of carer, especially when caring for a spouse or close family member, can create unique emotional stresses.
Over 70% the UK’s unpaid carers now suffer from back pain, and are a greater risk of developing chronic pain, which is highly disabling in a third of cases and life-long for the majority.