How Can I Prevent Back Pain Continued…

In a previous post, I wrote about non-specific Lower Back Pain (LBP) and gave some tips for how you can deal with it.

I now want to give you some more information about the possible causes of mechanical back pain, how an osteopath can help and how you can protect yourself from developing back pain in the first place.

Some of the causes of LBP that your GP may diagnose include a herniated or prolapsed disc which can cause sciatica, ankylosing spondylitis and spondylolisthesis. However, there are many other causes of LBP and an osteopath will carry out a full assessment to diagnose and treat the cause of your problem, which will give your body time to heal.

A herniated disc is when a disc bulges, while a prolapsed disc is where a disc splits and the contents leak out. Another disc problem is that it could dry out and become thin.  The term ‘slipped disc’ is a complete misnomer; the discs are firmly attached to your vertebra and do not move.  If you have any issues with a disc in your spine you may experience sciatic pain or sciatica.  Sciatica is not a condition; it’s a symptom of the actual cause of the problem.

Conventional medical advice is to rest for a short while, and then keep moving; stay active and do some gentle exercise every day.  Take painkillers, alternating between ibuprofen and paracetamol, up to the recommended daily limit.

Visiting an osteopath if you’re diagnosed with a herniated disc is the best way to get treatment to reduce the pressure on the disc.  The disc has been damaged because that part of the spine has been asked to do too much.  This is usually because it’s compensating for something else.  An osteopath will establish what that is, treat it and relieve the pressure on the damaged disc.

If you’re experiencing sciatic pain this may feel like a stabbing, burning or shooting pain radiating through your bottom, the back of your leg and maybe into your foot and toes.  You may also feel associated tingling, numbness and weakness or any combination of these symptoms.

Sciatica is a symptom of something compressing the sciatic nerve; to relieve the pain you need to find and resolve whatever is causing the compression.  A common cause is a muscle in the buttock called Piriformis.  This muscle often tightens up and compresses the sciatic nerve in response to a need to stabilise either the pelvis or the hip.  Therefore, if you can stabilise these areas, the muscle will be relaxed and there’ll be no more sciatic pain.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a long term condition where the spine and other areas become inflamed.  It usually develops in teenagers or young adults and men are twice as likely to have this condition as women.  The symptoms include:

  • Back pain and stiffness
  • Pain and swelling in other parts of the body; for example arthritis
  • Fatigue

This condition develops gradually and may come and go at times.  You should see your GP if the symptoms are persistent.  The cause of this condition is believed to be genetic, and while there is no cure, the following treatments may help:

  • Exercises to reduce pain and stiffness
  • Physiotherapy – massage and manipulation
  • Medications including painkillers and other therapies

Spondylolisthesis is a condition where a vertebra slips out of place.  It’s caused by either a fracture in a specific part of the vertebra or a failure in the joints to hold the vertebra in place.  The condition is graded from 1 to 4, with grade 1 often having no symptoms at all, while a grade 4 may need surgical intervention to resolve the problem.

The symptoms of this condition may include:

  • Lower back pain that’s worse when moving or standing and is relieved by lying down
  • Pain
  • Numbness
  • Tingling (like sciatica)
  • Tight hamstrings
  • Stiffness or tenderness in the back
  • A curvature of the spine that’s known as kyphosis.

There are several possible causes of this condition including:

  • A birth defect
  • Repetitive trauma (this is common in athletes such as gymnasts and weightlifters)
  • Worn arthritic joints in older people
  • A sudden injury or fracture
  • A bone abnormality of some kind

You should see your GP if you have persistent pain, stiffness or pain in the thighs and/or buttocks or if the back curves outwards.  Treatments include avoiding bending and lifting, painkillers as described above, physiotherapy (stretching and strengthening) and corticosteroid injections.  If the condition progresses then surgery may be required.


Some of the risk factors include:

  • Lifting items incorrectly
  • Poor posture
  • Being physically inactive and/or overweight
  • Having a fall or accident
  • Other health problems such as arthritis or cancer

Remember, prevention is easier than trying to treat a condition so the earlier you can act, the better.

  • Get Active – do back strengthening and stretching exercises at least twice a week. Try Yoga or Pilates and get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week.
  • Prevent Injuries – have good posture; don’t slouch. Sit up straight, support your back and keep your feet flat on the floor.  Stand tall and don’t stay in one position for too long.  Lift correctly, from your legs, not your back.  Keep your back straight, bend at your knees or your hip and get help if the item is very heavy.  You can find the Health and Safety Executives’ guidelines on manual handling here.
  • Healthy Habits – keep to a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet and take exercise regularly. Make sure you’re getting enough calcium and Vitamin D to help prevent osteoporosis.

Osteopathy is a form of treatment where the whole person is treated rather than a single condition.  It’s safe for everyone; no matter your age, health condition or fitness level.  It’s not normally available on the NHS, although some private healthcare plans will allow you to claim the cost of the treatment.  The benefits of osteopathy can include, pain relief, increased mobility and flexibility and relief from stress.

Contact us for more information on how we can help you manage your back pain or any other condition you may have concerns about.  Our consultants are specialists and will advise on how they can help you.