Low Back Pain: A Step wise approach

Low back pain is one of the most common health complaints that people have with almost 80% of individuals developing low back pain at some point in their lives. The most alarming statistic though is that 30% of these individuals will go on to develop chronic back pain, therefore the pain will never fully subside!

            There is a lot of confusion surrounding how to manage low back pain, particularly what to do when you first start to experience pain in your low back. This is the most critically stage, as an improper initial diagnosis or treatment will dramatically increase your chances of the low back pain staying around for good!

            As a Chiropractor and Exercise Physiologist, I help manage my patients’ low back pain almost everyday and hear the conflicting advice that they receive, I have outlined below a simple step wise approach on how to tackle the first signs of low back pain.

Please keep in mind that this is a general guideline and if you have any questions, you can forward them to our email address at info@backtohealthclinic.com.au or you can speak to your trusted health professional.

·         Step 1: Diagnosis

It’s important to receive a proper diagnosis for your low back pain. So before you start to search on Dr. Google, you need to see your GP or Allied health professional (physiotherapist, chiropractor, osteopath) as they will be able to give you a proper diagnosis.

However, one of the key issues I experience with diagnosis of a patient’s low back pain is how quickly people are referred for MRI’s and x-rays of their low back. The reason why this is an issue is that more often than not, patients are told that they have a ‘bulging disc’ which is the cause of their pain. This causes much unwanted stress and anxiety for the patient, particularly when 20% of people in the general population have a bulging disc with no symptoms of low back pain!

Generally, MRIs and x rays are necessary when patients present with intense low back pain with accompanying pain/weakness down either leg, bowel and bladder dysfunction, past history of cancer or when a patient is under 20 yrs old or over 50 years and has a new low back complaint.  

·         Step 2: Move it or lose it

The next step after your diagnosis is to move, move, move!!!

Patients report best outcomes when they stay active during their back pain episode. Activity is relative and based on your pain tolerance and generally involves walking, stretching and specific exercises that can be given by your health professional. Activity needs to be performed throughout the ‘whole’ day, however its best to avoid bending/leaning forward movements and picking up heavy items as this will aggravate your pain.

Movement can also be helped with the use of pain relief medication prescribed by your GP.

·         Step 3: Lifestyle change

Most low back pain is caused by repetitive overload of the muscles, ligaments and joints in your low back. This repetitive overload can be mostly attributed to peoples’ lifestyle and behaviours. For example; office workers sitting for prolonged periods at  unsuitable desks, landscapers repetitively picking up heavy gardening material etc.

Therefore it’s important to; change the ergonomic design of your work place by making it ‘back’ friendly; get up from your desk every 30-40min and stretch out your back or using proper lifting technique for heavy items.

If you would like advice on how to manage and prevent low back pain, our Chiropractor and Exercise Physiologist at Back to Health Clinic will be more than happy to help.

Paul Matkovic