Back pain is very common. 80% of adults will experience back pain at some point. Most patients consulting osteopaths come for back pain. I see a lot of low back pain patients and I am really interested in it, so much so that I’m doing a PhD on low-back pain and the different factors that may influence it!
Why is it so common?
There is probably no one answer to why you have back pain. 85% of patients with back pain are diagnosed with non-specific low back pain. There are lots of possible contributors, including:
- physical factors such as heavy lifting, twisting or bending
- psychological factors. These do not imply that the pain is “in the head” of the patient! We know now that the way we process information is more complex than just “I knock my knee against the table. Ouch! I feel pain”. The context in which we are is going to influence how we process information and our sensibility to painful events. In broad term, the same person facing the same painful event may experience more or less pain depending how tired, stressed, anxious or sad he/she is. It is, of course, a bit more complex than that and I’ll try to write a post on it later. In the meantime, you may want to look at this video for more information.
- previous back pain. Low back pain has recently been compared to asthma. Not in the sense that they are related to each other but more because their recurrence pattern is somewhat similar. If we look at asthma to start with, patients tend to have asthmatic episodes (for which they probably have an inhalator – or two – to help with the symptoms) separated by symptom-free periods. The same happens with low back pain where patients may have symptoms, manage the symptoms (through self-management or seeking help from a health professional) and then have a period symptom-free. We know that there is a high chance for that patient to develop a new episode of low back pain in the future (we do not know the average time of low back pain recurrence but this is probably too much dependant on personal factors to make a generalisation). The positive thing about it is that, hopefully, this patient has found his/her way to manage the symptoms (through swimming, seeking help of an osteopath, taking Pilates classes, practising regular meditation, taking an art class, etc) and now knows what to do to feel better when his/her symptoms occur.
- lifestyle. There are several factors that are related with low back pain. One of them, when patients have or have had experienced back pain is the lack of activity. It can be related to a fear to provoke pain or to injure him/herlef but we know that it is a contributing factor to back pain. Another one is smoking. The underlying mechanism is not clear: is it because someone is stressed that he/she smokes and the stress is the one responsible of the low back pain or is it the effect of smoking on tissue health (muscles, discs, back joints to name just a few) that is responsible of the low back pain? There are other factors that were believed to be strong predictors of back pain, such as obesity, which in fact when researched are not. I always enjoy when research challenges conventional wisdom.
The main thing is not to worry too much about why we have back pain but more find a way to make it better.
What to do?
There are many things you can do to help with your pain. If you have begun to experience pain recently (acute pain), the most important thing is to remain as active as possible. Perhaps surprisingly, rest actually increases pain! You can also use ice packs and of course seek help from an osteopath. Click here for more information on an initial consultation and the techniques used during treatment.
If you are experiencing long term pain (what healthcare professionals call “chronic pain“), the advice is pretty similar but will probably be more specific to your own history and experiences. Your osteopath will talk to you about this to find out what will suit you best. Click here for more information on an initial consultation and the techniques used during treatment.
Info on how to seat comfortably.