It’s a pain in the back!
With back pain being the most common cause of long-term sickness in the UK, it’s as much of a worry for employers as it is for the person suffering. Nobody wants to be in pain for any length of time, or at all for that matter. But once you are in pain, the emphasis shifts to sorting it as quickly as possible rather than simply ignoring it and hoping it goes away.
Unfortunately, the cause of back pain isn’t always simple. It can be as a result of a number of factors including long-term poor posture, lack of exercise causing stiffness in the spine or sporting activities resulting in muscle strains or sprains. In most cases, it is the lower back that is affected and, although this can sometimes be dealt with and treated in a matter of weeks, it is often the case that back pain lingers for months if not years.
Similarly, the symptoms of back pain can also be hard to pin point as they differ from one person to the next. This is further compounded when symptoms are not immediately evident but come on gradually over time; the pain comes and goes. For most people, back pain is eased initially by lying down. This is because the more they move, the worse the pain gets. But, as time goes on, constant back pain can start to impact on your day-to-day life; it will grind you down meaning you are less able to carry out your daily activities let alone sleep properly. Not only that, but the hindered movement puts you into a cycle of pain where your body adjusts to avoid the pain. This adapted movement causes pressure and complications to other joints and muscles which then suffer. So the body adapts, the pain gets worse and the cycle continues.
The first port-of-call for most back pain sufferers is likely to be their GP who will review their symptoms and carry out an initial examination. For some, this could well be the end of their treatment plan, with a guide of self-help tips and anti-inflammatories prescribed. For others, however, it’s a referral to a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath. This is especially true when symptoms are more severe, ongoing or associated with a specific cause.
These non-medical forms of treatment, also known as alternative or complimentary care, are focussed around movement, manipulation, stretching and massage. The emphasis being on the importance of your bones, muscles and ligaments functioning smoothly together. The techniques are non-invasive and provide great success in improving mobility, reducing stiffness and relieving pain and discomfort. This alone may fix your problem but if not, there are more options out there.
And so continues the move away from a one-solution-fits-all approach. It is important to recognise and be open to the array of medical professionals that can make it onto your treatment plan. This all-encompassing approach means that different types and styles of treatment can work together, forming a tailor-made plan for treating your back pain symptoms. As well as some muscle manipulation, you may also find yourself in the queue for a scan.
When we say scan, we are referring to the diagnostic process of looking further into the cause of your back pain using x-rays, ultrasounds or MRIs. Different imaging solutions are used to identify different causes of back pain. More recently there has been a surge in people choosing to self-pay for this type of treatment as opposed to waiting for a GP referral. For them, the main benefit is the quick time frame in which the scan will take place; resulting in a speedy diagnosis.
And it is this diagnosis that holds the key to the next step in your treatment journey. Back to the osteopath could be one option, but a steroid injection to reduce the pain and inflammation is another. This can be a great short-term fix to managing your back pain. And, if the injection is given in an open MRI scanner, the treatment can be targeted to the exact point of pain. The inherent numbness of a spinal injection will also allow your specialist to further investigate the cause of your pain.
As with most things, surgery will be the final resort for fixing back pain. A consultant will look to sort your symptoms with other treatments first. This is largely because the repercussions of surgery are much greater and may take anywhere from 4 weeks to 4 months before you are fully back on your feet. Having said this, the success rate for decompression spinal surgery, for example, is extremely high with 90% of patients experiencing good relief of the leg pain post-surgery.
All in all, back pain is a niggle or an ongoing nuisance for a huge number of people every day. So much so that in the last 40 years, the rates of reported cases of back pain in England have doubled. It is the cause of much discomfort and inconvenience and, as with all things health related, the quicker you are on the case to fix your pain, the less severe it will be in the long-term. And with back pain in particular, there is an abundance of medical professionals in line to assist, offering a full circle of treatment tailored to you. It is important for you to keep an open mind and be guided by the professionals as to the best course of action for your symptoms.