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Back pain - everything you need to know

woman with back pain
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What causes back pain?

Back pain is most common in the lower back, but it can be felt anywhere along the spine, from the neck down to the hips. It's usually caused by poor posture, sitting for long periods of time or lifting heavy items which can result in strained muscles or ligaments. 40% of back, joint and muscle pain is caused by injuries and health conditions.*

It's estimated that four out of five adults will experience back pain, tension or stiffness at some point in their lives.** Knowing how to tackle this common form of pain when it strikes, can help you get yourself back on your feet as soon as possible.

From lower to upper back pain

There are lots of things that can lead to back pain, such as poor posture, computer use, driving, lifting incorrectly and not being active enough. Very occasionally back pain is caused by an underlying condition.

For some, it's severe and frightening, while for others it's mild and familiar. For some it will get better quickly and for others it will stay persistent and additional help and support maybe needed. The most important thing is for you to feel in charge of the pain.

The best back pain relief for you

Painkillers are not a cure for back pain. Talk to your Pharmacist about which painkiller to choose in the short term to help you get moving again.

Longer term, regular use of painkillers could cause harm. Talking to your GP about your symptoms and them examining you can help. Sometimes you might need further tests, but scans aren't usually necessary.

The back is made of bones, discs, ligaments and nerves and all of these can be the source of pain, often in combination, but this doesn't always show up on tests.

Back pain - things to remember

  • General physical activity every day, along with specific exercises for joints are an essential part of managing your pain, but build up slowly and take rests when needed. Why not try your chosen exercise for 10-15 minutes, extending this at a steady pace, two to three times a week.
  • You could try low-impact exercises like Yoga.  Yoga focuses on strength, flexibility and breathing to boost physical and mental well-being.
  • If you normally exercise regularly then keep going.
  • Pain when exercising is not an indicator that a joint is being damaged, so using a painkiller like paracetamol may make doing physical activity more comfortable.
  • When trying to lose weight, it's better to combine eating less with being physically more active.
  • There are many ways to manage joint pain and stiffness, such as applying warmth, relaxation and distraction. Different approaches can be combined and it's a good idea to keep a record of things you try.

Ways to naturally relieve back pain

When you’re in pain you may not feel like exercising, but it can be beneficial. Muscle strengthening, stretching and aerobic exercises can help reduce back and joint pain and increase function. Staying as active as possible can help reduce recurring back pain, as resting for long periods can make pain worse. Walking, swimming and yoga are great ways to help keep moving and stretch your muscles. To help with neck pain try sleeping on a low, firm pillow and checking your posture.

  • Keep your posture upright when standing and sitting
  • Check that your shoes aren't worn down, as this can affect your posture
  • Consider whether losing weight could relieve some strain on your back
  • Use good lifting techniques
  • Try regular deep tissue or sports massage

    How to correct your posture

    • Sit up with your back straight and your shoulders back. Your buttocks should touch the back of your chair.
    • All 3 normal back curves should be present while sitting. A small, rolled-up towel or a lumbar roll can be used to help you maintain the normal curves in your back.
    • Draw yourself up and accentuate the curve of your back as far as possible. Hold for a few seconds.
    • Release the position slightly (about 10 degrees). This is a good sitting posture.
    • Distribute your body weight evenly on both hips.
    • Bend your knees at a right angle. Keep your knees even with or slightly higher than your hips. (use a foot rest or stool if necessary). Your legs should not be crossed.
    • Keep your feet flat on the floor.
    • Try to avoid sitting in the same position for more than 30 minutes.
    • At work, adjust your chair height and work station so you can sit up close to your work and tilt it up at you. Rest your elbows and arms on your chair or desk, keeping your shoulders relaxed.
    • When sitting in a chair that rolls and pivots, don't twist at the waist while sitting. Instead, turn your whole body.
    • When standing up from the sitting position, move to the front of the seat of your chair. Stand up by straightening your legs. Avoid bending forward at your waist. Immediately stretch your back by doing 10 standing backbends.

    Can heat therapy relieve back pain?

    Heat therapy can be used to ease pain and reduce inflammation. Treating your back pain with a combination of painkillers as well as heat wraps can be effective. Or, if you wanted to experiment with a TENS machine*** you could try the paingone pen

    Back pain stretches to try

    There are some simple stretching exercises you can do to help ease lower back pain and improve your strength and flexibility. Try to do these every day, along with other exercises such as walking, swimming or yoga*.

    1. Remember only stretch as far as feels comfortable. Lie on your front and rest on your forearms, then arch your back up by pushing down on your hands.  Breathe and hold for 5-10 seconds before returning to the starting position. Repeat 8 to 10 times.
    2. Lie on your back and place a small cushion under your head, then gently flatten your lower back into the floor and tense your stomach muscles.  Now repeat, tilting your pelvis towards your heels to give a gentle arch in your lower back. Repeat 10 to 15 times.
    3. Kneel on all fours, with your knees under your hips and hands under your shoulders before slowly moving your bottom back towards your heels. Hold the stretch for one deep breath and return.  Repeat 8 to 10 times.

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    *Survey of 2,000 respondents. February 2019. Commissioned by LloydsPharmacy, conducted by 3Gem
    **BBC Health
    Keele University
    ***TENS machine is not suitable for use during pregnancy or labour, or if you suspect you may be pregnant or for people with pacemakers or other implanted medical devices or heart rhythm problems. Cancer patients, people with diabetes or epilepsy should seek medical advice before using this product. A TENS machine should not be used without supervision for children under 16 years of age.