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Fix your back pain

Fix Your Lower Back Pain. Disc Injuries. Mechanical Back Pain. Chronic Lower Back Pain. Osteoarthritis.

The lower back or lumbar spine supports the upper body and transmits the weight and movement of our bodies to the pelvis and the lower legs. It is involved in all we do, from our movements, to the support of our posture, even when sitting or sedentary.

The lower back is made up of five vertebrae, each with two joints and a disc. The facet joints direct the movement of the lumbar spine, while the discs are our shock absorbers. The pelvis can be included her with the lower back as it is thought that up to 70% of all back pain sufferers will have some pain and poor movement in the pelvic joints. The pelvis is made up of three big bones. There are three joints in the pelvis – the pubic joint and two sacro-iliac joints at your buttock region. The pelvis is a 'load transfer' station it transfers all weights and movements of your body as you go about your day.

Lower back pain is reported to affect up to 80% of Australian men and women in their lifetime. Often there is no obvious cause. The 2007-2008 National senses reported that 14% or 2.8 million Australians were suffering from back pain and disc disorders.

Common injuries we can treat at the lower back

Acute lower back pain

Short-term or acute back pain is the common type of back pain, and usually resolves itself in three days to six weeks, whether or not you have treatment. This could be a muscular strain or facet joint sprain. This pain will come on suddenly and is usually on one side of the back. Movements will typically make tis pain worse, and advice on exercises, postural re-alignment from our physios and a couple of Panadol are recommended to get you back pain free. Xrays and scans would all show a normal spine and are not necessary. Keep moving and avoid bed rest if you can.

Mechanical back pain

Mechanical back pain or ‘postural back pain’ is the most common cause of lower back discomfort. It is characterised by stiffness felt usually in the morning and the pain getting worse throughout the day. Changes in postures will relieve the pain and it rarely refers beyond the buttocks and upper thighs. This pain can be due to the fatigue of supporting structures such as the muscles and joints of the back, making them sore and tight. Pain can cause a compounding effect on muscle strength as it inhibits the correct control and endurance of the supporting muscles.

Physiotherapy treatment of ‘postural back pain’ involves thorough assessment of alignment, movement, movement control and postural muscle strengths and balance. Management will aim to realign, educate, and strengthen. Strengthening of the pelvic postural muscles such as the deep abdominals, pelvic floor and buttock muscles will allow for the best long term outcome.

Disc injuries

The discs sitting between each vertebrae in the back will carry as much as 70-80% of the trunk’s vertical load and pressures. Due to poor postures or incorrect lifting and manual labour, these discs can become ‘injured’ or worn out. Degeneration of the discs, called spondylosis is common and, if mild, is usually felt across the lower back. This degeneration is due to the dehydration of the watery disc material as we age. There may or may not be a referred pain into the buttocks or legs.

Due to this disc dehydration, the pressure on the discs can increase, particularly in positions bent forward or in a slump rounded posture. Injuries can occur here, such as disc protrusions or prolapses, where the disc’s central nucleus can bulge into the other disc material. This in turn can potentially cause an encroachment on the space where the nerves leave the spine. Due to this compression on the nerves or from swelling and inflammation, the nerve can become irritated and produce a specific referred pain down the leg.

Physiotherapy has been shown to be effective in most cases to alter the pressures through the disc and allow for reduction in swelling and possible irritation of the nerve. However, in some cases, if there is a less than positive change in pain in 4-6 weeks, or leg and nerve pain is increasing, referral to the GP and possible referral onto a specialist may be indicated.

Chronic lower back pain

Chronic back pain exists if pain and symptoms persist for longer than three months. If pain doesn't go away and has a physical and psychological impact, this pain can become chronic and a problem in its own right. Chronic pain can result in sleep deprivation, depression, irritability and a decreased quality of life.

If your back pain is not resolved in the short term, a pain management program may help you to get back on track. Our physios can work with your GP or specialist and teach you how to manage your medication, develop coping strategies and improve your wellbeing. Strengthening classes coupled with this education can help you establish a safe and graduated exercise plan. Our physiotherapists know that staying active can minimise the downward spiral of chronic pain and in fact, can help you get out of it. If need be, we can refer you to a clinical psychologist, trained in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), can help you build confidence and overcome any obstacles to your recovery.

Osteoarthritis

Osteoarthritis or age-related wear and tear can occur in the many facet joints of the lower back. It is typically seen in those over 50 years of age. The pain will be felt across the lower back, and mostly on one side. This pain gradually becomes a problem. Movement of the lower back usually is painful while rest makes it feel better. There may be some impact on the nerves as they leave the spine.

Physiotherapy management will be very similar as we see with postural back pain. Re-alignment, joint movements and a strengthening program for the muscles that support the spine are most beneficial. It is helpful to learn how to find a balance between exercise to prevent stiffness and maintain good strength, and rest.

Scoliosis

Scoliosis is a curvature of the spine, made most famous by the ‘hunchback of Notre Dame’. These curvatures can be structural, or postural. Structural scoliosis cannot be corrected and is often caused by genetic or bone reasons. Postural scoliosis can be due to postural problems or due to changes in movement due to pain, inflammation or a difference in leg lengths.

Physiotherapy assessment can determine whether the scoliosis is structural (fixed) or postural. Alignment, posture and movement checks across the length of the spine and pelvis, strength and postural muscle assessment, tests to eliminate any inflammation, nerve entrapment, and differences in the length of the two legs are all carried out to work out the best management approach for each individual presenting with scoliosis. Treatment can involve pelvis and spine re-alignment techniques, massage and mobilisation, core and postural muscle strengthening and classes. Referral to a podiatrist may be required if there is any leg length involvement.

Pregnancy related lower back pain

For over 48% of all pregnant women, back pain is the norm. Some research suggests that in even up to 90% of all pregnancies, this is the case. As any pregnancy develops, changes in posture at the pelvis and spine become very obvious and extreme. The growing weight of the baby carried out at front contribute to increased spinal curves and stresses in the back. In addition, pregnancy hormones to relax the ligaments and other soft supporting tissues at the joints add to the problem of pregnancy back and pelvic pain.

Physiotherapy can help through these times. Treatment can target the strength of the supporting muscles about the belly, spine and pelvis. Gentle pregnancy Pilates classes that address pelvic floor and deep abdominal strength offer great relief and support for the back. Prescription of compression garments and pelvic belts when measured up correctly can offer wonderful relief. Most women that experience pregnancy related back and pelvic pain will have an uncomplicated return to pain free back movement within the first 3 months after having their baby. For those few that have lingering problems after this time, help is also available with appropriate post-natal physiotherapy.

Pelvic Pain

The pelvic joints provide the transfer of weight, movement and jarring shocks between the spine and the legs. There are two sacro-iliac joints (SIJs) and a pubic joint. Assessment of these three joints should always be included with any assessment of lower back or hip pain as it is often found that there may be some involvement of these joints in the complete picture. These 3 joints have no muscles that control their movement or alignment directly, but do have an intricate system of muscles that provide their stability and ability to bear heavy pressures.

SIJ pain is usually felt deeply in the buttock. It is often a dull pain rarely extending beyond the mid thigh. Pubic pain is very localised at the front of the pelvis.

Physiotherapy is effective in managing these pelvic joint pains. Management is focused on achieving good pelvic alignment through hand on treatment by your therapist, coupled with improving movement control about the pelvis and lower trunk. Often, precise and slow exercises targeting the intricate muscular system of the pelvis bring about the best outcome, such as is seen in The Fix Program Pilates classes.

What do I do next?

Contact us. You don't need a doctor's referral to see our physiotherapists. We'll be happy to chat about your needs.

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