416 Ilam Road, Fendalton, Christchurch 8052

Clinic Hours: Monday - Friday 7am - 8pm

416 Ilam Road, Fendalton, Christchurch 8052

Clinic Hours: Monday-Friday 7am-8pm

Back Pain – Symptoms, Causes, Exercises And Treatments

Published by Better Health Osteopathy on 7 June 2021, Back Pain

Low back pain is a prevalent medical condition reported to affect over 90% of the general population at some time in their lives. Low back pain affects patients in many different ways, with each patient having their own unique experience.

The majority of back pain is caused by dysfunction of the spine and body’s muscles, ligaments, and joints. However, there can be more serious underlying causes of back pain at times. Osteopaths are primary healthcare providers trained to differentiate between uncomplicated back pain and other conditions requiring further medical attention or investigation, such as X-ray or MRI.

Osteopaths treat patients with low back pain regularly. Generally, most patients recover from back pain over a number of weeks. However, back pain can, at times, have a severe impact on people’s everyday activities. Others can suffer from chronic back pain, where they can suffer from episodic periods of discomfort throughout the year. Only a tiny percentage of patients suffering from back pain will ever require surgery.

Symptoms of Back Pain

Back pain symptoms can vary from mild pain and stiffness to unrelenting acute back pain. Some patients report a burning sensation in their low back. Others can report sensations like tingling and pins and needles in their legs. Others find it challenging to get in and out of the car, to get up from a chair, or put their socks and shoes on.

Back pain can come on without any prior warning or specific injury in many cases. This can be very frustrating for patients. Sometimes, however, there are some warnings where the patient may experience stiffness or slight back pain for weeks or months leading up to the acute back pain event.

5 Common Causes Of Back Pain

Low Back Pain typically can be challenging to diagnose and treat because there is often not one specific cause for back pain. In fact, there can be many different causes and contributing factors to back pain. Each patient will experience their back pain in their own unique way. It is important, though, to understand what structure in your back is causing the back pain

Your back comprises many structures, including facet joints, discs, ligaments, ribs, muscles, nerves, and sacroiliac joints. These structures can be easily strained, for example: from poor posture at your desk, by simply bending down to pick up a piece of paper, putting your baby into the back seat of the car, or by lifting something awkwardly on a work site.

5 Common causes of Back Pain Are:

  1. Injury or trauma to a vertebra
  2. Pulled muscles or ligaments throughout the spine
  3. Strained or prolapsed discs
  4. Irritated spinal nerve roots which cause nerve symptoms such as pins and needles or tingling in the legs or other extremities
  5. Existing medical conditions such as arthritis or inflammatory disorders such as ankylosing spondylitis

Additional Factors That Can Contribute To Back Pain

Often there is not one leading cause of back pain. In addition to the above, many other factors can contribute to back pain and the level of pain experienced by patients.

These include:

  • Poor and repetitive posture
  • Previous back injuries
  • Sitting and driving for too long
  • Repetitive bending and lifting activities
  • Smoking and poor nutrition
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stress, anxiety, depression, and periods of emotional distress can affect back pain and impede healing
  • Poor spinal mechanics – dysfunction in other parts of the spine can add to the load on the injured back during movements
  • Underlying chronic health conditions

6 Top Tips When Suffering From Back Pain

When back pain occurs, it can impact on quality of life and everyday activities. Here are a few tips to help you manage when dealing with back pain.

  1. Remain Calm. More than 90% of patients with acute back pain will recover fully over some weeks.
  2. Avoid Heavy Lifting, Twisting And Bending. This includes gardening, vacuuming, lifting your baby in and out of the car, heavy lifting on-site.
  3. Discover The Root Cause. Your Osteopath will help you figure out and treat the root cause of your back pain which will contribute to a speedier recovery and help prevent further injury.
  4. Pain relief. if required, consult your GP about medication such as anti-inflammatories which could help to ease the inflammation in your back.
  5. Stay mobile. Bed rest is not recommended; avoid sitting for long periods at your desk. Avoid long periods of time driving in the car. Walking and gentle stretching can be good for your back.
  6. Strengthen And Repair. Once the pain subsides, your Osteopath will prescribe rehabilitation exercises to strengthen your back and core muscles and prevent further re-injury. It is important to follow through on your rehabilitation program.

Serious Complications of Back Pain-Red Flags

As mentioned previously, most back pain will improve over several weeks. However, there are some serious symptoms that we refer to as ‘red flags’ which should never be ignored or left untreated – if you have any of these, always see your Osteopath.

  • Numbness into toes, weakness, pins and needles down your leg.
  • Pain which is not easing after a couple of weeks.
  • Pain at night, weight loss, fever.
  • Problems with starting and stopping urination and defecation are a medical emergency – go straight to A&E.

4 Back Pain Home Remedies

Most back pain gets better within a few weeks of home treatment; however, everyone’s pain is different, and back pain can be a complicated condition as there can be multiple factors at play. The following remedies are given as a guide only; always check with your Osteopath for professional advice on caring for your back injury.

1. Get Moving Again

Although getting up and moving about may be the last thing you feel like doing – exercise helps. A short walk or low impact activity are a great place to start; the movement will help free up muscles and get things working again. Stretching is also a good idea once you feel up to it. There are plenty of stretches online that can help with back pain; some of the more common ones are:

  1. Touching The Toes. Leaning over gently stretching hamstrings and lower back.
  2. Inverting The Spine. Laying on your stomach while gently lifting your chest with your hands.
  3. Arching And Relaxing The Back. On your hands and knees, slowly alternate between arching your back toward the ceiling and dipping it toward the floor.
  4. Simple Back Stretch. Sitting on your heels, leaning forward, placing your head on the floor and stretching your arms out in front of your head.
  5. Knee Hug. Laying on your back while pulling knees up to the chest, see video below.


2. Check Your Surroundings and posture

Prolonged sitting at your desk, monitors at incorrect heights, and mismatched chair and desk heights can all contribute to back pain. In fact, any form of sustained posture such as breastfeeding, painting ceilings, lifting heavy material at work can contribute to back pain. Take a good look at your work / daily environment and ensure everything follows ergonomic principles.

3. Heat/Cold

Ice packs are most beneficial immediately after the injury strikes to help keep inflammation down. At the same time, heat packs are good for muscle relief and aiding in getting you up and about again.

4. Pain Relief Creams Or Arnica

You will find several pain relief creams available at your local chemist, or you could try using Arnica. Arnica is a homoeopathic remedy used for treating muscle pain, swelling, bruising, and other minor injuries.

Do I Need Imaging Of My Back?

In most cases of back pain – imaging is not required. However, in some cases, imaging or blood tests may be required to rule out more serious causes of back pain if an underlying medical issue is suspected. One or more of the following tests may be required.

  • Blood Tests. Blood tests are used to rule out an underlying infection that might be causing your pain.
  • X-ray. X-rays are useful if a fracture or degeneration is suspected. X-rays do not show disc bulges or nerve root impingement.
  • Scans. MRI or CT scans are used to diagnose herniated discs or problems with muscles, tendons, nerves and ligaments.

Can An Osteopath Help With Back Pain?

Osteopaths are highly skilled in recognising and identifying the various structures in your back that may be the source of your pain. When visiting your Osteopath, you can expect a detailed medical history to be taken, along with a thorough Osteopathic examination to assist the diagnostic process and identify any red flags that may be present.

Osteopaths endeavor to treat the root cause of your pain using hands-on osteopathic treatment. The aim is to improve joint mobility by reducing muscle tension, inflammation and nerve irritation. We work with patients to reduce the duration of low back pain episodes, help prevent future episodes. We will also provide guidance on exercise, posture, and rehabilitation. Our main aim is to return patients back to everyday health and activities as quickly as possible.

Treatment techniques include soft tissue and joint mobilisation, manipulation, massage and various stretching exercises, and a detailed recovery and prevention plan.

Osteopaths can also refer a patient for further orthopaedic assessment, including MRI, steroidal injections, or surgery.

If you wish to discuss any issues with Back Pain, please do not hesitate to contact our Osteopaths at Better Health Osteopathy in Christchurch. Call 027 755 5700 or book online.

Better Health Osteopathy

Lorraine Herity is the Clinic Director of Better Health Osteopathy in Christchurch, New Zealand. She previously worked in Osteopathic clinics in London and Ireland, before moving to New Zealand. Lorraine trained at the British School of Osteopathy in London, where she gained her Master of Osteopathy (M.Ost). Lorraine is a dedicated and passionate Osteopath. Her main aim is to help her patients regain their health and to return her patients back to their everyday activities, in as quick a time as possible. Lorraine is also a clinic tutor on the Osteopathic Course in Ara and relishes the opportunity to teach the next generation of osteopaths.