Suffering from back pain? You are not alone. Most Australian adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives. It can feel like an ache, tension or stiffness in the back that is usually brought on by a sudden movement, fall, injury or medical condition. For most people, back pain improves or disappears within three to six weeks (acute back pain), while others develop more persistent pain lasting for over three months.  Back pain can have a large impact to our daily routine, so it is important to educate yourself on how to deal with back pain early on, so the pain doesn’t continue to disrupt your life.

Back Pain Causes

There are several factors that can contribute to back pain, including:

  • Bad work practices and lifting techniques
  • Poor posture
  • Being overweight
  • Lack of exercise
  • Pregnancy
  • Stress

Types of Back Pain

Short term back pain

Most short-term back pain lasts a few days to a few weeks. If you are suffering from short term back pain, try the below treatment measures for the first 2 to 3 days for pain relief.

  • Apply ice packs to your back every one to two hours for 20 minutes. Make sure the ice is not applied directly to the skin.
  • Avoid ‘HARM” – Heat, Alcohol, Re-injury and Massage for the first few days as this will increase inflammation and swelling.
  • Avoid strenuous activities you do not need to do.
  • Sit as little as possible until the pain settles.
  • When resting, lie in a comfortable position, supported by pillows if necessary.
  • Keep moving. Walk as much as you feel comfortable doing. Initially, this may not be far and may require the use of crutches or a walking frame. Walk regularly and gradually increase the distances.
  • Take appropriate pain relief medications.
  • Speak to your Physiotherapist.

If your back pain symptoms continue to persist, visit your GP or pharmacist for advice on how to manage the pain.

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Chronic back pain

Chronic back pain refers to pain persisting longer than three months and is a leading cause of disability in Australia and worldwide.

Chronic back pain symptoms can include:

  • Pain
  • Spasms
  • Stiffness in the back
  • Pain, tingling and/or numbness in the legs or feet

Back Pain Treatment

The most effective way to manage persistent back pain is through multidisciplinary pain management (medicated and non-medicated options) combined with self-management. Medicines prescribed to reduce pain intensity are the most common form of treatment for chronic back pain in the short term. It may also be beneficial to consider acupuncture, weight loss, massage and physiotherapy, as these can all play a role in helping to manage your pain.

It is important to be actively involved in managing your back pain. This means, rather than only medication or placing a heat pack on the pain area, you should take an active approach incorporating:

  • Physical exercises
    • Stay active with daily exercise.
  • Mind based exercises
    • Cognitive behavioural therapy, biofeedback and mindfulness-based approaches.
  • Mind-body approaches
    • For example, muscle relaxation, meditation, laughter, mindfulness-based approaches, hypnosis, guided imagery, yoga, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).

Below are a few recommended stretches you can practice for back pain self-management.

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