Back Pain

Back pain is a common issue that affects many people at some point in their lives. Most back pain is short-lived and resolves within a few days or weeks, but for others, it can be chronic and disruptive to daily life. Whether your back pain is acute or chronic, there are steps you can take to reduce the discomfort and improve your quality of life. Back Pain is one of the most frequent causes of missed work or consultation with physiotherapists and general practitioners. In fact, it is the main contributor to musculoskeletal disability. But why? What causes back pain, and what can be done to treat it? Let’s explore this very important topic further.

Back pain has many potential causes. Injuries such as strains or sprains are one of the most common causes, but poor postural alignment, sitting for extended periods of time, being overweight, repetitive motions over time, lack of exercise, stress on the muscles due to heavy lifting, and even some medical conditions can contribute to back pain.

Symptoms

Back pain is an all-too-common issue that can range from mild discomfort to severe pain. Common symptoms of back pain can include dull or sharp aches and pains, difficulty moving around, stiff muscles, and radiating pain in one or both legs. As is the case with most types of pain and discomfort, the severity depends on the individual and the diagnosis of the injury. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms it is important to consult with your physiotherapist as soon as possible to determine the cause of your back pain and find an effective treatment plan.

When should I see a Physiotherapist?

It’s important to remember that back pain is not always a sign of a serious medical issue; however, it should still never be ignored. If your pain has lasted more than a few days, if the discomfort is so severe that it restricts your daily movements or activities, or if you have numbness or tingling accompanying the pain, then it may be time to consult with a physician or physiotherapist. A doctor can effectively diagnose your condition and develop an appropriate treatment plan that can help you find relief and return to optimal health.

Common types of Back Pain

Muscle Strain

Muscles are essential for everyday body functioning, so a muscle strain cause a major disruption in daily life. Muscle strains involve a tear in the muscle fibers and result from overstretching or overloading of the muscle. Not surprisingly, athletes are at higher risk for muscle strain, especially when their muscles become suddenly fatigued or weakened.

Signs and symptoms of a muscle strain may include the following.

  1. Muscle pain
  2. Swelling
  3. Stiffness
  4. Limited range of motion
  5. Redness or bruising
  6. Muscle spasms
  7. Muscle weakness

Additionally, muscle strains can be classified based on severity as grades 1-3 with a grade 3 having the worst symptoms, which result from a complete tear. Proper treatment with rest and Physiotherapy is necessary to heal a strained muscle, as ignoring it can prolong recovery time and worsen symptoms.  At Allied Physiotherapy Health Group, we provide individualized treatment plans for each of our patients.

Joint Strain

Joint sprains are one of the major causes of back pain and disability. They can make completing simple everyday tasks unbearably painful. When a joint sprain occurs, it can cause ligaments to stretch or tear, usually due to an unnatural movement of the joint or trauma. Hot and cold compresses are often used as a source of pain relief, as is rest and physical therapy.  To decrease the risk of injury, gentle stretches before engaging in sports or other activities that involve dynamic physical movements should become part of your routine. Prevention can often save you from a great deal of pain and inconvenience!

There may be a variety of signs and symptoms, such as:

  1. Pain
  2. Swelling
  3. Bruising
  4. Limited ability to move the affected joint
  5. Hearing or feeling a “pop” in your joint at the time of injury

Bulging disc

A bulging disc is a very common source of lower back pain. It happens when the soft interior layer of a spinal disc begins to push out beyond its normal boundaries. To determine if a person has a bulging disc, doctors may use MRI or CT scans to scan the spine and assess for structural changes in the shape of the discs and joint spaces between the vertebrae. Treatment options vary but should be tailored to an individual’s unique condition and may include bed rest, Physiotherapy, medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), laser therapy, spinal decompression therapy, injections or surgery. Progressive customized exercise and Physiotherapy can help alleviate symptoms and improve overall health. It is also important to pay attention to posture, especially during times at work when you are sitting or standing for long periods of time.

Depending on the degree of the damage, there may be a variety of signs and symptoms, such as:

  1. Pain that radiates down the lower back and pelvis
  2. Shooting pains in the thighs, legs and feet
  3. Weakness and difficulties with balance
  4. Limited ability to bend, walk and lift objects
  5. Pain with coughing or sneezing

Sciatica

Sciatica is a common back problem, which is defined as a shooting or burning pain that radiates down the back of your leg, usually on one side only. The source of this pain typically comes from irritation of the sciatic nerve, which is connected to the lower spine and runs through parts of your hip and buttock. Depending on the severity of the damage to your sciatic nerve, symptoms can either arise suddenly due to an acute injury like a herniated disc or it can take months to develop following repetitive trauma or sprain/strain on the back joints and muscles that eventually leads to inflammation and impingement of the sciatic nerve. If you’ve experienced any type of sciatica, it’s important to get an accurate diagnosis so that you can identify the cause of injury and correctly treat the problem. Symptoms can vary from person to person and range from a dull ache to an electric shock-like sensation that travels down the leg. It is often accompanied by numbness and tingling, as well as muscle weakness especially when the nerve is significantly compressed. Sciatica can occur suddenly and usually lasts anywhere from a couple of days to a few weeks.

Relatively mild cases may resolve without any formal medical treatment while more serious cases may require Physiotherapy, trigger point release, laser therapy, supportive mattresses, spinal decompression and a customized exercise program.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a medical condition that affects the curvature of the spine, making it appear curved sideways when viewed from the back. It can affect children and adults alike, although it typically appears during growth spurts in young people, during adolescence. Fortunately, Scoliosis is treatable with a combination of physiotherapy, specific exercises and custom supports such as back braces; for more severe cases, surgery may be necessary. Regular check-ups with a physician or physiotherapist are important to monitor the progression of the curve and to ensure that muscle imbalances and joint compensatory movements are corrected.

Symptoms of scoliosis may include:

  1. Uneven level of shoulders
  2. One shoulder blade that appears more prominent than the other
  3. Asymmetrical waistline
  4. One hip higher than the other
  5. One side of the rib cage appears rotated
  6. A prominence on one side of the back when bending forward

Spondylolisthesis

Spondylolisthesis is an uncomfortable, yet common spinal condition. It occurs when one vertebra(bone) slips over another vertebra, often causing painful muscle, joint or nerve compression. Although the exact cause of spondylolisthesis is difficult to determine, poor posture, and activities that involve repetitive or heavy lifting, or a traumatic injury are generally regarded as risk factors. Fortunately, there are several treatments available to help with the pain and symptoms of spondylolisthesis including Physiotherapy, exercise therapy, laser therapy, medications, and back support braces. In more severe cases, surgery may be recommended to fuse together the affected vertebrae, to stabilize the joints and reduce the pain.

Signs & Symptoms of Spondylolisthesis

  1. Muscle spasms in the hamstring (muscles in the back of the thighs).
  2. Back stiffness
  3. Difficulty walking or standing for long periods
  4. Pain when bending forwards or backwards
  5. Numbness, weakness or tingling in the foot

Arthritis

Arthritis is a common condition that can cause pain and stiffness in various joints throughout the body, making it difficult to move without pain. Although the exact cause of arthritis is not known and there is currently no cure, there are treatments available to help manage your symptoms and reduce the pain.  Treatment may include medications, physical and occupational therapy, laser therapy & ultrasound, lifestyle changes such as weight loss and exercise therapy. Seeking treatment early on can be advantageous in how quickly those affected with arthritis can return to activities of daily life. With proper care and management, people with arthritis can go on to lead active lifestyles despite the diagnosis and effects their condition has on them.

Symptoms of Arthritis

  1. Joint pain and stiffness
  2. Decreased range of motion
  3. Swelling, tenderness in the affected joints
  4. Redness or warmth around the affected joint.
  5. Some people with arthritis may also experience fatigue, decreased appetite, and overall low energy levels throughout the day.

Treatments for back pain

Manual Therapy

Manual therapy and spinal mobilization techniques can be effective in treating people who suffer from back pain. These techniques apply pressure to specific areas of the spine, namely joints and soft tissues, helping to release tension and promote healing. Patients who are receiving manual therapy may benefit from improved range of motion, increased circulation, and increased flexibility. Furthermore, this form of therapy can reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation associated with back pain. In addition to providing relief from physical discomfort, manual therapy can also improve one’s posture as well as a sense of overall wellbeing. Manual therapy involves gentle mobilization and massage along with some light stretching, which helps the body relax and promotes healing. As a result, people suffering from back pain can find substantial benefits in massage and spinal mobilization

Massage Therapy

Massage therapy is an effective method for helping to relieve pain and tension in the body. Massage and specifically, trigger point release can help to manage and treat back pain. Trigger point release techniques are especially effective because they target specific areas of muscles, tendons, and ligaments that are causing discomfort and limiting movement. Through manipulation of soft tissue, trigger point massage can help to reduce pain and promote healing by releasing stored tension and restoring balanced motion in the affected area. The therapist specifically works on tight knots of muscle fibers known as trigger points, which cause tightness or constriction leading to discomfort and soreness. Trigger point massage helps to promote relaxation, improve circulation, lengthen muscles, increase range of motion, and reduce psychological stress

Laser/Ultrasound

Back pain is a common problem that prevents many people from leading an active life. Fortunately, modern technology provides a solution. Laser and ultrasound therapy are two types of treatment that are effective in alleviating acute and chronic back pain, thus enabling many people to return to their everyday activities. Laser therapy reduces inflammation and pain, as well as decreases spasm of muscles at the painful area, by bringing oxygen and nutrients to the injured area to promote healing. Ultrasound works to reduce pain, muscle spasm and inflammation through sound waves which increase circulation and stimulate tissue repair. If you are looking for a proven method to treat your back pain, it’s worth giving laser or ultrasound therapy a try!

Shockwave Therapy

Shockwave therapy is becoming increasingly popular as a treatment for back pain and related conditions. This form of Physiotherapy has been proven effective in providing both immediate and long-term relief to sufferers of chronic back pain. It does this by sending pulses of high frequency sound waves directly into the damaged tissues, stimulating new cell growth and helping the tissue fibers to heal faster than normal. Shockwave therapy not only helps to relieve pain, but also decreases thickened tissue, increases blood circulation and stimulates the release of tight muscle trigger points.  One of the most beneficial aspects of shockwave therapy is that it can help to break down scar tissue and reduce muscle tightness which often causes debilitating spinal pain. Shockwave therapy can provide an effective solution for those people struggling with chronic back pain, allowing them to get back to enjoying their daily activities once again.

Cupping

Cupping therapy is an ancient form of treatment that serves to address a variety of ailments, including back pain. It involves placing heated glass or plastic cups on the patient’s skin to create suction, creating a partial vacuum. This suction helps to increase blood flow, stimulate nerves, and relieve pain associated with musculoskeletal issues. Cupping can be beneficial for treating back pain due to its ability to draw out inflammation, relieve tension and promote healing in the affected areas. It works by gently stretching muscles and fascia which encourages them to relax and move more freely. The suction can help to release muscle tightness and tight knots thereby reducing muscle spasms. This minimally invasive technique can be used in conjunction with massage, acupuncture, or physiotherapy to provide for additional back pain relief.

Customized exercise programs

A customized back exercise program plays an important role for those people looking to treat their back pain and prevent a recurrence of their back injury. Back exercise programs are tailored to the individual and designed to help build core strength and increase flexibility while reinforcing healthy functional habits. People who participate in a customized exercise program often report pain relief and increased mobility within a short period of time. Furthermore, increased strength, improved posture, decreased tension levels, and greater energy can provide a positive sense of wellness. Consulting a Physiotherapist about a customized exercise program can make a big difference in alleviating your back pain!

Spinal Decompression

Spinal decompression is becoming a popular solution for relieving back pain, as this minimally invasive procedure has provided relief to many individuals with chronic lower back pain. It works by stretching the spine and distracting the vertebrae to decrease pressure on the discs, nerves, and ligaments of the spine. This relieves pressure in the area which can mean a decrease in inflammation and a lessening of nerve-related symptoms such as pain, numbness, or tingling. The process is also beneficial for rehydrating damaged discs, increasing, and restoring joint motion, improving circulation, and stimulating the regeneration of damaged spinal tissue. While it can provide long-term relief from back pain, many patients find that they start experiencing relief after just a few sessions.

Acupuncture/IMS or IMS/DRY Needling

Intramuscular Stimulation (IMS) also known as Dry Needling, is the insertion of a small mono-filament needle into a muscle to release dysfunctional muscle bands. This treatment uses the same acupuncture needle but has different physiological effects for back pain than traditional acupuncture.

Benefits of IMS include improved blood flow and oxygen to the taut bands, reduction in the pain by resetting the muscle tone, improved range of motion, increased flexibility of the muscle fibers and improved strength of the muscles to allow better function in daily activities e.g., Bending or twisting when you are back at work.

Our physiotherapists at Allied Physio offer (IMS) as an effective treatment in their scope of practice, if their assessment findings point to the benefits of IMS, with respect to the diagnosis of a person’s back pain. The focus of IMS is to reset muscle fibers and to reduce tension and pain. Our Physiotherapists normally combine IMS or Dry needling with other treatment modalities such as manual therapy treatments to deliver the best possible outcomes.

FAQs

How do I know if my back pain is serious?

Back pain that lasts more than a few weeks, should be assessed by your physiotherapist or doctor.  Back pain that is of a high intensity, referred tingling and numbness that radiates down one or both legs should be assessed as soon as possible.

What are five common causes of back pain?

  1. Poor posture, such as slouching at your workstation
  2. Excessive twisting and bending
  3. Training errors, doing too much too soon
  4. Lifting heavy objects with a poor technique
  5. Lack of flexibility and core strength

What can I do to relieve my back pain?

  1. Maintain back, pelvis and hip mobility within the limitations of your pain
  2. Gradually stretch and strengthen your muscles
  3. Maintain good posture during sitting, sleeping, and working.
  4. Reduce body weight if required
  5. Warm up and stretch before and after exercise
  6. Improve your core strength to maintain stability of your back
  7. Manual therapy, Laser, customized exercises, and spinal decompression have been shown to decrease back pain