About back pain
Back pain affects up to 80% of us at some point in our lives. The NHS spends more than £1 billion per year on back pain related costs but even more is lost through workplace absence caused by excessive aches and pains. Your spine is made of solid, bony blocks reinforced by strong ligaments and muscles. It is surprisingly difficult to damage the spine but if strained, the surrounding muscles and ligaments can cause discomfort and pain.
How an osteopath can help
Osteopathic practice is a safe and effective form of prevention, diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of health problems, including back pain. Often back pain resolves quickly by itself but if it persists for more than a few days an osteopath may be able to help.
Osteopaths will often use gentle hands-on techniques to help resolve back pain, together with exercise and advice designed to promote and maintain the best environment for a healthy back. Research evidence shows that these osteopathic treatments can have beneficial effects, especially for back pain.
The UK National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provides guidance for health services that recommend manual therapy, such as that provided by osteopaths, as part of a package of care for the management of low back pain and sciatica.
Osteopathic treatment is based on the individual needs of the patient and will vary depending on age, fitness and diagnosis but often focuses on releasing tension, stretching muscles and improving mobility – all of which may help relieve pain. There is no need to consult a GP before visiting an osteopath, although you may wish to do so.
Early diagnosis and treatment can aid recovery and get you back to normal activities more quickly. Around half of those who suffer an episode of back pain will have a recurrence of symptoms within a few years. Stress can increase the amount of pain you feel by magnifying the effect of tension and muscle spasms. An osteopath can give advice about methods to aid recovery and maintain a healthy back.
REMEMBER: Back pain is rarely due to any serious disease and the long-term outlook is good. If you do have any concerns about your back you can discuss these with an osteopath.
Here are some tips that will help you to care for your back:
- Keeping active can help with most back pain and will keep backs healthy. Prolonged bed rest is usually not good for backs and delays recovery
- When lifting and carrying always keep the item close to the body. Make sure to bend the knees and let the legs do the work. Try not to twist the back – turn with your feet
- Take regular exercise (aim for 30 minutes every day). People who are physically fit generally experience less back pain and recover faster if they do get it
- Pace yourself when undertaking any physical activity, especially when it is intensive or you are unaccustomed to it e.g. spring cleaning or tidying the garden after the winter
- Adjust your car seats, use a rolled-up towel to support the lower back and take regular breaks on long journeys
- Mattresses and sofas wear out over time and can cause back pain. If you have one that is over seven years old it may be time to get a new one.
What to expect when you visit an osteopath
Back pain is not normally caused by anything serious, though it is natural to worry about symptoms and the cause. An osteopath will always complete a routine examination that checks for more serious diagnoses and will advise and discuss with you any further action that might be required.
After an initial examination, an osteopath will discuss treatment options and decide jointly with a patient, an appropriate and suitable treatment plan, and the likely associated costs. This plan may involve several visits and, very occasionally, further tests and/or referrals to another appropriate health care professional. Treatment may begin at the first appointment. There may mild discomfort afterwards but in most cases, this will pass within 24 hours.
Osteopaths are highly trained professionals skilled in diagnosing health issues, including those that may require further investigation. The first visit to an osteopath will include questions about current symptoms and medical history. All information will be treated as confidential in accordance with the standards of practice set out by the General Osteopathic Council (GOsC) and General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), May 2018.