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Back pain - back pain usually affects the lower back. It can be a short-term problem, lasting a few days or weeks, or continue for many months or even years. Most people will have some form of back pain at some stage in their lives.
About back pain. Back pain is extremely common - about four in five people are affected at some point in their lifetime. Anyone can get back pain at any age, but it's most common in people between the ages of 35 and 55, or over.
Your back has many interconnecting structures, including bones, joints,
muscles, ligaments and tendons. Its main support structure is the spine, which
is made up of 24 separate bones called vertebrae, plus the bones of the sacrum
and coccyx. Between the vertebrae are discs that act as shock absorbers and
allow your spine to bend. Your spinal cord threads down through the central
canal of each vertebra, carrying nerves from your brain to the rest of your
It's often very difficult to know exactly what causes back pain, but it's usually thought to be related to a strain in one of the interconnecting structures in your back, rather than a nerve problem. Back pain caused by a more serious, underlying condition is rare and you're unlikely to be affected unless you are very old or very young.
What are the symptoms of back pain? If you have low back pain, you may have tension, soreness or stiffness in your lower back area. This pain is often referred to as 'non-specific' back pain and usually improves on its own within a few days.
Back pain may be called either 'acute' or 'chronic' depending on how long
your symptoms last. You may have:
What are the causes of back pain? For most people with back
pain, there isn't any specific, underlying problem or condition that can be
identified as the cause of the pain. However, there are a number of factors that
can increase your risk of developing back pain, or aggravate it once you have
it. These include:
Diagnosis of back pain - your GP will usually be able to diagnose low
back pain from your symptoms and there will be no need for further tests. If,
however, your symptoms don't improve after a few weeks, or you have some red
flag symptoms, he or she may refer you to a back clinic to have:
What are the treatments for back pain? If your back pain is non-specific, your GP will recommend you try self-help measures. Alternatively, he or she may prescribe medicines or refer you for physical therapy if your pain is severe or chronic. If, however, your GP suspects you have a specific underlying cause, he or she may refer you to a back clinic or a pain clinic to see if you are suitable to have spinal injections. These are used to find out the exact source of, and also to treat, your back pain but aren't suitable for everyone.
Self-help for back pain - there are a number of things you can do to
help relieve low back pain.
Physical therapies for back pain - a physiotherapist (a health
professional who specialises in maintaining and improving movement and mobility)
may be able to help you design a programme to help you exercise and stretch.
Surgery for back pain - back pain, even if it's chronic, can usually
be treated or managed successfully, but about one in 10 people have ongoing
problems. Back surgery is really only considered as a last resort if the pain is
related to a specific cause.
Prevention of back pain - good back care can greatly reduce your risk
of getting low back pain. To look after your back, make sure you:
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