Back pain is a very common problem, with reports suggesting as many as eight out of ten of us will suffer from it at some point during our lives (1). Around 5.6 million working days in the UK are lost each year due to back pain, second only to stress (2, 3).
Back pain can affect anyone at any age, and can often be the result of a sprain or a strain of the structures of the back such as the muscles, ligaments, joints or damage to the discs. Osteoarthritis or wear and tear in the back can also be a reason.
Most of us know that back pain can be painful and inconvenient, but it’s not usually serious and will often resolve on its own within a few weeks. However, many people seek osteopathic treatment to address it quickly(4) and at a time and place of their own choice; and osteopaths are skilled at helping prevent back pain from becoming a chronic, long-term condition.
- Palmer KT, Walsh K, et al. Back pain in Britain: comparison of two prevalence surveys at an interval of 10 years BMJ 2000;320:1577-1578
- Gurry et al. (2004) looked at a multidisciplinary setting within Plymouth Primary Care Trust (PCT)46. It found that the return to work time was quicker using this service which included osteopaths than GP and physiotherapy services alone.
Diagram of the anatomy of the back:
Back pain can be brought on by lifting, moving awkwardly or by an accident. Sometimes it can come on without any specific injury to your back. Stress, depression, posture, being overweight, sedentary living and poor lifestyle habits can all be significant factors.
People can feel a range of symptoms such as stiffness, tenderness and mild to very severe pain. The pain can come on quite suddenly or over time, and be located anywhere in the spine from the top of the neck to the pelvis. Sometimes pressure from the back on the nerves can cause pain or pins and needles and numbness in the legs and arms. X-rays, scans and other tests are sometimes required to make a diagnosis. If osteopathy treatment cannot completely heal or discover the cause of the back pain, your osteopath may refer to your GP or a specialist for any additional investigation.
How can an Osteopath help?
- Osteopaths are well known for treating back pain and patients report high satisfaction with treatment. There is good quality evidence supporting the beneficial effects of manipulation for back pain and the National Institutes for Clinical Excellence recommends osteopathy for sub-acute and chronic low back pain
- Osteopaths can use a wide range of gentle manual treatments depending on your age, fitness and diagnosis. We may gently massage the soft tissues of your back or rhythmically “rock” the joints to release tension and sometimes we may gently manipulate the back to loosen the joints and you may hear a “click”
- Treatment is different in every individual and sometimes it might involve treating other areas in the body such as the hips or neck
- We may offer advice on your lifestyle particularly if we feel something you are doing repetitively is part of the reason why you have back pain. We may offer advice on your posture and give advice on diet and exercise or give you specific exercises.