The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

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Back pain

Back pain is very common and can vary from a slight twinge to severe pain at times.  Most people recover quickly from their back pain, if it is managed properly. This summary will explain how physiotherapy can help.

What is back pain

Physiotherapy works for you: download Treatment for Back Pain

Back pain is a ‘musculoskeletal disorder’ (MSD) which also includes neck pain and repetitive strain injury (RSI), now known as Work Relevant Upper Limb Disorder (WRULD).

MSDs are a main cause of people being off sick from work.  Physiotherapy is extremely effective with MSDs. In one study, 80 per cent of people who had physiotherapy for their MSD were able to carry on working and did not have to go off sick.

Back pain has a wide variety of causes, from picking up a heavy parcel incorrectly to spending too long in one position.  Feeling very anxious or stressed can make your pain worse.  It is rarely due to a serious health problem.

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How can physiotherapy help?

Physiotherapy work wells for managing back pain. If you see a physiotherapist quickly, this can not only speed up recovery but also prevent the problem happening again.
 
A physio will first check out if you have a serious health problem that may be connected to your back pain. They will then find the reason for your back pain and look at ways to help prevent further problems.
 
Physios offer a range of treatments that have proven to be effective with back pain. These include manual treatments, and acupuncture.  Your physio will also advise you on appropriate exercise and pain relief.
 
Physios are the third largest health profession after doctors and nurses. They work in the NHS, in private practice, for charities and in the work-place, through occupational health schemes. 

What will happen when I see a physiotherapist?

Do you or someone you care for need teatment? 
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When you see a physio, they will assess your problem and give you advice. They may give you a physical treatment. Everything you tell the physio will be completely confidential.
 
So that your physio can have a good look at your back and possibly feel your spine, they may need you to remove some clothes.  It’s a good idea to dress comfortably and wear suitable underwear. 

How can I help myself?

There is a lot you can do to help yourself. Continuing with your usual work and activities, as much as possible, can help your back pain.
 
There are exercises that can reduce your back pain and help to prevent it returning. The right sort of exercise, as advised by a physiotherapist, can make a big difference.
 
Research has shown lower back pain may return if it is ignored. Lifestyle changes, such as being more active and improving your posture, are important. 

Top tips for back pain 

  • Exercise and activity are the most important ways of helping yourself if you have back pain
  • Keep moving and continue with activities such as walking or swimming
  • Paracetamol or similar pain-killers, taken as advised by your GP or physio, can help you keep moving comfortably
  • Avoid sitting for too long when driving or at work
  • Gently stretch to prevent stiffness
  • Take care when lifting, bending your hips and knees to use the power in your legs
  • Check your posture when using computers/games or watching television
  • Check the mattress on your bed to ensure it supports you properly
  • Don’t smoke – it impairs your circulation, which affects how quickly your body can recover
  • Strengthen your trunk muscles as this may help to protect your back
  • Make sure your car seat and office chair are adjusted correctly and support your back
  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise, as being overweight can be a cause of back pain

Guidance and evidence for physiotherapy

Links and further information

 

Disclaimer

The content on this page is provided for general information purposes only and is not meant to replace a physiotherapy or medical consultation. The CSP is not responsible for the content of any external sites, nor should selection be seen as an endorsement of them.

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Last revised on

13 June 2014