By Katie Knapton, MSCP HCPC founder of PFO.
Many of us will suffer an episode of back pain in our lives and the most common area to be affected is our lower back (lumbar region) which is from just above our waist to the pelvis. Often there is not an exact cause and actual structural damage is quite rare.
Sometimes back strain strikes when we have overexerted ourselves, maybe doing something new, and often it is actually a simple soft tissue strain. Other problems can be as a result of being not moving enough, perhaps sitting in one position for too long. (This is something that we have increasingly seen as people have been working from home and do not need to get up to go to a meeting or visit a colleague’s desk.) Repetitive strain, often in the work environment, such as regularly lifting heavy objects, can be another common cause,
It is normal for the discomfort to last a bit. If you had sprained your ankle, you would not expect it to magically recover straightaway and would expect to hobble for a bit until you get it moving properly. You may benefit from some over the counter medication or find some rubs helpful. The use of ice or heat can help too.
We know that the best thing for you to do when you are suffering with back pain is to move and exercise. Avoiding bedrest is key (although that might be what you feel like doing), but that does not mean you are not allowed some short rests if you are feeling very uncomfortable. We also know that remaining at work in some capacity actually speeds recovery and is what is advised.
Here are some examples of simple exercises that might help:
*If an exercise feels like it is aggravating then ease off. Any gentle movement is good but remember your back is strong and needs movement to get better.
With all exercises try and gently breathe out as you are doing it. We commonly hold our breathe with pain and increase tension and then pain by doing this!!!
1. Back Extension
Standing up nice and straight, place your hands in the small of your back for comfort and gently arch backwards.
2. Standing Side Flexion
Stand up straight, and bend to the side by running your hand down the outside of your leg. Keep the movement slow and fluid. Repeat to the opposite site. This is a good mobility exercise for the lower and upper back.
3. Knee Rolls-Lumbar Rotation
Lie comfortably on the bed or the floor. Bend your knees and, keeping your feet flat on the bed or floor, slowly move knees to one side creating a gentle stretch through your lower back. Only go as far as feels comfortable, you do not need to get your knees to the floor. Return to the opposite side. This is an excellent lower back mobility exercise.
4. Knee hugs
Lie flat on your back (this can be on your bed if you find it tricky getting on the floor), and bend your knees towards your chest. Hold this position and feel a gentle stretch in your back you can gently rock as is comfortable. If you suffer from groin pain ease off and just hold knees at a comfortable position.
5. Pelvic Tilts
Pelvic tilts are gentle movement with abdominal activation. Lie flat on your back and flatten your spine against the floor, try and tighten your tummy muscles whilst doing it. Stay within a comfortable range and relax after each movement.
When to Speak to a GP or Physiotherapist?
Sometimes there are specific causes for back pain, especially when there is leg pain, pins and needles or numbness too. This can be caused by irritation or compression of the nerves in the back. If you are experiencing this you should consider contacting a GP or physiotherapist, especially if it lasts over 6 weeks.
These symptoms are rare but if you suffer from any of the following you should contact a doctor:
- Difficulty in passing urine or having the sensation to pass water that is not there
- Numbness/tingling in your genitals or buttocks area
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Impaired sexual function, such as loss of sensation during intercourse
- Loss of power in your legs
- Feeling unwell with your back pain, such as a fever or significant sweating that wakes you from sleep