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Back Pain

The below information is purely for educational purposes and does not constitute medical advice. This content should not be used as a substitute for professional medical advice.

What is Back Pain?

Back pain is a common condition that affects around 60% of the UK population at some time in their lives. This condition can range from constant back ache to a shooting, sharp pain. Most back pain improves within a few weeks but often can take longer.

What Causes Back Pain?

Back pain causes are very varied, and many people experience backache and pain at some point. In many cases, back pain isn’t serious and has no underlying cause, however, it is often assumed to be a musculoskeletal problem due to dysfunction or injury to the spine or supporting muscles. It is always important to have back pain assessed by an appropriately trained healthcare professional as some cases of back pain may represent more serious underlying health conditions. Below are some of the more common causes:

Lower back pain causes:

  • Injury or disorder of spinal joints, vertebrae, or soft tissues
  • Prolapse of intervertebral discs
  • Arthritis of the spinal joints
  • Spinal fracture
  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Kidney stones or infection
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm
  • Endometriosis

Upper back pain causes:

  • Injury or disorder of spinal joints, vertebrae or soft tissues
  • Prolapse of intervertebral discs
  • Shingles
  • Spinal fracture
  • Cancer
  • Infection
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm

What are Back Pain Symptoms?

Back pain can be experienced in one specific area or all over the back, but the pain can also move to other body parts such as your legs. The most common symptoms of back pain include:

  • High levels of pain when lifting or bending
  • Pain that feels worse when sitting or standing
  • Pain in the back which comes and goes
  • Feeling stiff when you wake up or after being stood/sat still for long periods.

If you experience these more serious symptoms of back pain, it is important to seek urgent medical advice:

  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Loss of bowel control
  • Numbness or tingling around the genitals or buttocks
  • Weakness in the legs or arms
  • Severe pain which prevents sleep
  • Tenderness over the spine
  • Unexplained weight loss, fevers, or chills

Types of Back Pain

There can be different types of back pain, from less severe, short-term pain, to more severe and intense pain.

  • Acute back pain – sudden and lasts a few days.
  • Subacute back pain – sudden and can last up to 12 weeks
  • Chronic back pain – can happen quickly or slowly and lasts longer than 12 weeks, occuring most days.

Diagnosing Back Pain

Back pain can sometimes be hard to diagnose. A doctor will perform a physical exam and ask questions – this includes examining the spine and posture to look for changes in structure. Depending on the symptoms it may also be necessary to perform a neurological examination.

It will not always be necessary to have additional tests, but according to the individual it might be helpful to perform blood tests, X-rays, or more specialist imaging.

Back Pain Treatment

Exercise and staying active is vital to helping relieve back pain. Lack of movement can cause stiffness and worsen pain in the long-term, therefore keeping active and moving regularly can help speed up recovery. It is important to always do this within the limitations of the condition, and therefore consulting a trained health professional on type of intensity of exercise is advisable. Other types of treatment include:

  • Physiotherapy can help improve strength and flexibility, improving pain over time.
  • Psychological therapy, including cognitive behavioural therapy, can help people cope with the pain and engage with pain management in a positive way
  • Other ways of reducing back pain are daily exercise, over the counter pain relief, anti-inflammatory creams or gels, maintain good posture.

Medication for Back Pain

The recommended medication for back pain depends on the type of condition.

Acute back pain can often be managed using over the counter pain relief overseen by a trained health professional, these include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), weak opioids, and heat rubs or patches that contain salicylates. However, for chronic back pain opioids, gabapentinoids, antiepileptic drugs and antidepressants aren’t recommended to be prescribed by GPs, and therefore some individuals may be referred to specialist pain services to oversee the most appropriate treatments for their care.

Back Pain and Medicinal Cannabis

Research into the effect of medicinal cannabis on back pain is limited. However, following the legalisation of cannabis for medical purposes in 2018, there has been a rise in people looking towards medical cannabis. When first-line therapies have not proved effective at reducing symptoms, medical cannabis may be considered an option for chronic back pain.

For further information and to find out more about medical cannabis, click here to discover more about our award-winning Curaleaf Access Scheme. Alternatively, complete an eligibility assessment now. Once complete, one of our clinicians will review your application and advise whether you are eligible for progression to an appointment.

 

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Frequently Asked Questions about Back Pain

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The best medicine for lower back pain is the one that works for you. Over the counter treatment might be effective enough for you to continue your daily activities. Other people may need stronger prescription pain relief to manage their pain. Try to manage the way you use medication, such as just before you exercise to enable yourself to stay active.

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Staying active is one of the most important ways to treat your lower back pain. Your lower back pain can get worse if you have too much rest.

Exercising regularly and doing lower back pain stretches means you won’t feel back pain as long or as often. It’s also important to stay positive and to try to relax. Your pain can get worse if you have tense muscles due to worrying.

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You may wake up with lower back pain if your sleeping position involves twisting or putting pressure on the lower spine. The ideal sleeping position is on your side with a partial bend in the knees. You can put a pillow between your knees to make it more comfortable.

The best mattress for back pain depends on your weight, body shape and sleeping preferences. You need a mattress that is in good condition and doesn’t sag to ensure you have the correct spinal alignment. A medium-firm mattress is generally recommended to help with back pain.

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Constipation can cause back pain. Poo can build up in your digestive tract. This increases the pressure in the area. This pressure presses on the muscles and nerves in your lower back.

Faecal impaction can also cause lower back pain. This is when a piece of dry stool can’t pass through your intestine or rectum which leads to pressure in these areas.

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If your back pain occurs daily for a long period of time (over 6 weeks) this may be a sign that your back pain could be something more serious. If there is no improvement to back pain after a few weeks, it is important to visit the GP.
If you experience these more serious symptoms of back pain, it is important to seek medical advice:

  • Difficulty passing urine.
  • Loss of bowel control.
  • Numbness or tingling around the genitals or buttocks.
  • Weakness in the legs or arms.
  • Severe pain which prevents sleep.
  • Tenderness over the spine.
  • Unexplained weight loss, fevers, or chills.
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For most people a specific cause of back pain is not able to be identified. However, it is often assumed to be a musculoskeletal problem due to dysfunction or injury to the spine or supporting muscles. The most common risk factors for developing this type of chronic pain include:

  • Obesity.
  • Physical inactivity.
  • Heavy lifting, bending, or twisting.
  • Stressful life events or depression.
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If you experience these more serious symptoms of back pain, it is important to seek urgent medical advice:

  • Difficulty passing urine.
  • Loss of bowel control.
  • Numbness or tingling around the genitals or buttocks.
  • Weakness in the legs or arms.
  • Severe pain which prevents sleep.
  • Tenderness over the spine.
  • Unexplained weight loss, fevers, or chills.

Other factors may also be associated with more severe causes of back pain:

  • Age younger than 18 or older than 50.
  • History of major trauma.
  • Previous or current diagnosis of cancer.
  • Recent infection.
  • Osteoporosis.
  • Intravenous drug use.
  • Weakened immune system.