Most people will experience some form of lower back pain during their lifetime. Sometimes the pain will come and go on its own, sometimes it will require a simple intervention (moving around, stretching, or with a massage, acupuncture session or osteopathic treatment) and sometimes it will be more persistent, requiring multiple treatments and an ongoing management plan.
Lower back pain can arise from performing repetitive motions when taking part in sports, spending a prolonged time in one position such as sitting at a desk or on an aeroplane, from pregnancy, or conditions like scoliosis or leg-length discrepancies. Here are three different type of causes of lower back pain.
Common muscular causes of lower back pain include tight glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors. When these muscles get tight, they alter the position of the pelvis, creating imbalance and causing other muscles to work harder. Long hours spent in a seated position (desk work, driving, cycling) can encourage these muscles to shorten.
Tension can build up over time, or be caused by one particular movement like picking up a heavy object. Muscle stiffness can usually be relieved with massage, acupuncture, heat, and/or gentle stretching.
Joints, cartilage, and ligaments can all become damaged or inflamed, either from sudden movements or over time. This will need to be assessed and diagnosed by an osteopath or physiotherapist and may be treated through a combination of manual therapy and rehabilitation exercises. Skeletal causes of lower back pain can be caused by muscle stiffness, and in turn can cause muscle stiffness, so multiple treatments may be required, and a longer-term management routine may be advised.
Typically, neurological pain – caused by compression of a nerve – is identified by the “referred” pain, tingling or numbness that is often felt elsewhere; in the case of a compressed nerve in the lower back, this could be felt all the way down into the toes. A common example is sciatica. Compression can arise from long-term muscle tension or inflammation from a damaged joint or ligament, but there can also be more serious causes, so it is best to have this assessed by an osteopath or physiotherapist.
How to Get Rid of Lower Back Pain
I wish there was a simple answer to this question, but unfortunately, there isn’t. The treatment will always depend on what causes the lower back pain which is sometimes not easy to diagnose.
Acute back pain can be very scary, and a sudden sensation of discomfort can cause unaffected surrounding muscles to stiffen, which can affect mobility and sleep. Whether you suspect an injury or not, it is always a good idea to seek help from an osteopath or physiotherapist, who will be able to identify the cause or refer you for scans if needed; your GP may also be able to do this, but the process is usually slower.
Please seek immediate medical attention if you have back pain and:
- it doesn’t improve with rest or lying down
- you have a fever of 38ºC or higher
- you have loss of bladder and/or bowel control
- you experience numbness around genitals/buttocks
- you suddenly lost a significant amount of weight you can’t explain
- you notice a swelling or deformity in the back
If your doctor can’t find any medical reasons for your pain, the next best thing you can do is to see an osteopath who will be able to assess your body, diagnose and recommend a course of treatment. The road to recovery can include manual treatment and manipulation, rehab exercises and strength training to prevent future issues.
There are a few things you can try yourself to prevent the onset of chronic lower back pain:
- stretch your glutes, hamstrings, and hip flexors regularly
- gently mobilise the spine with rotational movements and a cat-cow stretch
- roll on a foam roller or tennis ball – seek professional help of a personal trainer if you haven’t done this before
- book yourself in for a sports massage
- have a hot bath or shower – adding some Epsom salt may help too
- setting a timer to get up from your desk and walk around for 2-3mins every half-hour
Disclaimer: This guide is aimed to inform the readers about musculoskeletal causes of lower back pain and what methods can relieve it if there isn’t an underlying medical condition behind it. If you have concerns about aches and pain in your body, please always seek medical advice from your GP first. Your doctor will be able to advise further and recommend the best course of action that may include physical therapy and exercise.