Why Have I Got Back Pain?

Mrs Dunne (not her real name) came to see me with back pain but she couldn’t understand why she had it, as she was always active, and she hadn’t lifted anything heavy or from an awkward position recently. Yesterday she found it difficult to get out of bed and so decided to see me her local Osteopath.

Simply reaching for the remote control, or loading the dishwasher can bring on back pain or a muscle spasm. In fact I rarely see patients who come to see me with back pain as a direct result of lifting something heavy.

The only consistent reason for getting back pain is life – It happens!
Our backs take on life’s stresses and strains; we all get a degree of wear and tear especially as we get older, and the back can get progressively stiffer without us realising.

Lets face it, it’s hard to avoid. We sit at a desk or drive for long periods, we have manual jobs, accidents, do sports, DIY, have children…. the list is endless. Sometimes (although much less likely) the source of the back pain is genetic or due to a medical condition.

Most people will have back pain at some point in their lives. Full recovery varies from person to person; it can take days or weeks.

The majority of back pain we will all suffer at some stage is mechanical back pain with a pulled muscle or strained ligaments sometimes irritating the local nerves.

What are the symptoms?

• Pain or ache.
• Stiffness.
• Muscle spasm. If you are really unlucky the muscles may go into spasm and may be momentarily stuck half way between the washing machine and the sink! Try not to panic! Breathe deeply and find a safe confortable position.
• Pain that is felt anywhere from buttock to the big toe and sometimes numbness and tingling in legs and feet. This is called sciatica and is caused by irritation of the sciatic nerve.

What can be done to help?

Stay active: There is good evidence that gentle activity speeds up recovery and prevents the pain from getting persistent. The back likes movement so it is good to return to normal activities as soon as you are able. However, don’t try to beat the pain with an activity that makes it worse. Instead, adjust what you are doing or change position for while to see if that helps. Strike a balance between rest and activity taking breaks and acknowledging that things may take longer to do.

Cold Pack: A cold pack (or frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel) can provide short-term pain relief. Apply in the sore area for up to 15 minutes, every few hours, or more often but the area must warm up in between sessions with gentle movements.

Medication: Talk to your GP or pharmacy about painkillers or anti-inflammatories. Do take them as prescribed. Don’t wait for the pain to get out of control before taking them as they may help you regain your movements more comfortably.

Osteopathy: If your back pain is affecting your activity and is persisting, or you need some help in relaxing and improving the flexibility of the muscles and managing the pain see a physical therapist such as an Osteopath. Osteopaths can provide a variety of treatments to enhance recovery, help you understand your problem, and give advice on how you can prevent back problems returning in the future.

Getting moving

Gradually increase physical activities progressively, start with some walking and simple stretching exercises which will help restore movement and prevent back stiffness.

Activity is helpful too much rest is not! Getting stiff muscles and joints moving is often uncomfortable to start with but becomes easier as you regain flexibility. However, any activity should not cause pain that lingers.

As well as walking, stretching (including Yoga or Pilates) and swimming are good whole body activities that will get you moving. When the back pain calms down don’t stop the exercise make them part of your normal day to help prevent further back problems at a later date. Little and often is much better than a couple of hours one day at the weekend.

Simple backstretches:

Here are some simple backstretches to start you off. Perform each exercise gently and slowly, only moving as far as feels confortable. Practice each exercise 2 or 3 times a day. Increase the intensity gradually.

Chair Stretch

Chair Back Stretch

Chair Back Stretch












Sit on a firm seat chair, lean forward with your elbows on your knees, count to 10, and then sit up do this 3 times. Open your knees and now go down again on your elbows then reach to the floor between your knees, hold for a count of 10 come up to sitting position by tensing your stomach muscles, repeat another 3 times.

Lying Stretches – Lying on your back with knees bent:

1. Knee Hug – Bring (hug) your knees in towards your chest keeping the knees apart. Hold for a count of 10 and repeat 5 times. If very painful do one leg at a time then do both legs together.


Knee Hugs for Back Stretch











2. Side Rotations – Keeping your knees bent gently roll your knees to one side getting as close to the floor as possible hold for count of 10. With the hand closest to the knee try to push it further to the floor, the opposite arm is stretched out along the floor as far as possible. Repeat on the other side. Do this 2 more times each side.


Side Rotation

The following symptoms are very rare, but if you do suddenly develop any of them you should consult your doctor straightaway.

• Difficulty passing or controlling urine.
• Numbness around your back passage or genitals
• Numbness, pins and needles or weakness in both legs (not just one).
• Unsteadiness on your feet.

If symptoms are not improving within a week or two, you should consider seeing our Osteopaths Debbie Crumpton or Shelley Machin for advice and treatment. Call today 01322 864499, or book online.