When Should I Worry About My Lower Back Pain?

Lower back pain can be a really frustrating condition that can range from a mild niggle to 10/10 pain. There are many causes of lower back pain, and it can be hard to tell when it’s ‘serious’ and when it’s not.

The simple answer to whether your back pain is serious is – if in doubt check it out! If your lower back pain is impacting your day-to-day function and activities or daily living, it’s worth getting it checked out by your Physiotherapist who has years of experience at dealing with lower back pain.

Up to 80% of adults will experience low back pain at some point in their lifetime, so if you have back pain you aren’t alone. The cause of lower back pain can be extremely varied and quite difficult to label a specific structure. Additionally the intensity of pain often does not match the seriousness of the lower back issue.

Let’s break it down into three broad categories that will help you work out what you need to do if you’re experiencing pain in your lower back.

  1. Mechanical lower back pain.

Up to 95% of lower back pain falls into this category. This is lower back pain that is primarily caused by the joints, intervertebral discs, ligaments, muscles and nerves around the lower back. If you’re experiencing lower back pain it’s best to come in and see your Physio to get a diagnosis and a treatment program to help you heal as quickly as possible and help prevent recurrent pain.

Mechanical low back pain is what Physiotherapists specialise in assessing and treating.  The majority of back pain in this group will take 4-12 weeks to feel significantly better and will not require any scans. However, occasionally it can take longer that this.

Symptoms that may indicate a longer prognosis or recovery time include:

–       Pain radiating down past your buttock

–       Weakness in your legs

–       Pins and needles or numbness or altered sensation/feeling in your legs

–       Significant trauma Eg fall from a height or motor vehicle accident

  1. Non-mechanical Back pain

Non-mechanical lower back pain can result from infections, tumours, kidney stones and a variety of other non-mechanical issues. This is relatively uncommon. If you have lower back pain plus one or more of the following symptoms it may indicate non mechanical back pain in some cases.

–       Unremitting night pain that isn’t relieved by rest

–       Previous history of cancer

–       Generally feeling unwell or having a fever

–       Use of immunosuppressant medication

–       Recent unexplained weight loss

–       Inability to get into a position that feels comfortable or eases your pain

If you are experiencing one or a number of these symptoms then it’s important to see your health care professional to discuss these symptoms and rule out anything sinister, and then get started on your treatment plan.

  1. Cauda Equina Syndrome – A medical emergency

Cauda equina sydrome is a nerve disorder that effects the nerve roots at the lower end of your spinal cord, and constitutes a medical emergency. If you experience any of the following symptoms, this is not your run-of-the-mill lower back situation and you will need to be treated immediately:

–       Sudden onset bladder and/or bowel dysfunction. This can cause retention of urine or inability to hold urine or rectal loss of control

–       Altered sensation in the “saddle” area. The area of your body that would sit on a saddle on a horse

–       Severe or progressive weakness in your lower limb often leading to difficulty walking

These symptoms may also be related to other issues, but could be a sign of cauda equina syndrome. If you experience any of them, get yourself to the emergency department to have everything checked out.

Our Physiotherapists at Bend + Mend see patients with low back pain on a regular basis. We have Physio’s trained at a Masters level to treat low back pain so if you are experiencing pain that is not settling down book an appointment today.

 

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