Back pain can be the result of many factors and it is important to know when to seek medical attention as, when left untreated could lead to serious complications.
(A list of ‘red flags’ of serious potential harm to the spine will be detailed at the end of the article)
Fortunately, these cases are rare and most back pain will with time and attention (minimising repetitive strain, reducing impact on the body, adopting balanced exercise and lifestyle change) subside and allow the sufferer to return to normal activities.
Most of us will be aware that modern living; an increasingly sedentary lifestyle facilitated with long hours of commute and desk-bound work as well as the explosion in the use of hand-held gadgets is taking it’s toll on our bodies with the prevalence of reported back pain at significantly high levels and increasing.
Low back pain probably affects around one-third of the UK adult population each year.
A global study reported in 2014 found “… lower back pain caused more disability than any other condition, affecting nearly 1 in 10 people and becoming more common with increasing age”.
Acute and chronic episodes of low back pain, sometimes excruciating may not necessarily be indicative of potential injury to the spinal column (which can have devastating consequences of paralysis) but the physical and emotional toll of back pain cannot be under estimated by the sufferer and the economic cost to industry is substantial.
How Low Back Pain Can Develop
The spine, which is designed to move in all planes of motion is for many people being held flexed/in a hunched position for extended periods, stretching and weakening the muscles and soft tissue of the back and shortening (and also weakening) the muscles and soft tissue at the front of the body. This makes it difficult for the person to achieve good posture as their weakened muscles are ‘fighting’ against constricted tissue.
The muscles at the back of the body become fatigued as they are engaged in a ‘tug of war’ with their opposing muscle groups, they develop fibrous knots and their circulation is compromised which further exacerbates the problem. The person is likely at this point to be experiencing real ache in their muscles.
Many people who attend the treatment room with an episode of acute muscle spasm fit into this description and it has been one final act of having bent over the ‘wrong’ way which has caused the muscle in the vulnerable area to apply a painful brace. That excruciating pain is in fact the body’s way of protecting itself.
Yes, Remedial Massage Can Help Alleviate Your Painful Muscle Spasm
This is what Massage Therapists do best. Through intuitive massage we soothe and relax soft tissue which has become hypertonic, stretch tissue which has become shortened, identify and treat trigger points which are very tender points within the soft tissue which may be painful on palpation but are also referring pain within the body. They are ‘gremlins’ and will interfere with muscle activation. Remedial massage improves circulation to remove the cellular debris which can irritate nerve endings and frees up space between the joints to relieve painful compression and articulation.
A Remedial Massage Therapist will discuss with you the types of exercise you should be doing and/or avoiding to manage any future episodes of back pain. You should feel immediately improved post-treatment with more pain-free movement and confidence to move in a more natural way.
Other conditions which may be causing your back pain and which merit further investigation and/or monitoring due to their progressive nature include:-
Intervertebral disc problems which range from bulging discs, herniated discs to compressed discs. Some conditions associated with the discs will self-resolve while others will require medical intervention and/or physical therapy.
Spinal stenosis is an abnormal narrowing of the openings (foramina) of the spine such as within the spinal canal itself or the apertures where nerve roots exit the spine. This type of mechanical compression on delicate nerve tissue is likely to require surgical intervention at some point.
Osteoarthritis of the joints of the spine with or without the formation of bony spurs (osteophytes) into the joint spaces may require medical intervention.
Ankylosing Spondylitis is an inflammatory disease which primarily affects the joints of the spine and pelvis but can affect other joints too. It will be characterised by periods of flare and remission. A diagnosis by a rheumatologist is critical to properly manage the progression of the disease.
Sacro-iliac joint dysfunction can be a result of a hyper-mobile (excess mobility) or hypo-mobile (limited mobility) and/or pelvic mis-alignment. Physical therapy can be helpful to re-align the structure of the pelvic girdle and identify other structure around the pelvis which are contributing to the joint’s hyper or hypo-mobility.
These are only some of the conditions which may be contributing to back pain. Because you have back pain, even if it is severe, does not necessarily mean you have a serious spinal issue.
Red Flag Symptoms For Potentially Serious Spinal Issues
- If you experience back pain accompanied by any of the following you should seek medical help:-
- Other symptoms which suggest you are seriously unwell like fever
- You have reason to believe you may have fractured your spine
- You have lost bowel or bladder control or sexual function
- Unusual sensation in the saddle area
- Neurological deficit (loss of control of your limbs/normal movement/sensation)
- Pain which cannot be relieved by moving into a position of comfort
- You have had cancer
- Your back pain is in the thoracic area (ribcage)
- Your back pain has remained unchanged or worsened over the last 4-6 weeks
- If you are seriously worried
PAIN AND SEVERITY OF BACK ISSUES ARE NOT ALWAYS ALIGNED.
Be reassured that 97% of back pain is mechanical in nature and not a symptom of a serious spinal lesion and will resolve with time and proper self management.