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Back pain is any ache, pain, tension, or disorder that affects the muscles or bones of the back from the base of the neck to the hips. It can be caused by damage to the muscles or the bones of the spine and ribs or to the disc between the vertebrae.

The exact cause of back pain is often unclear, but it is more common in roles that involve things like:

  • Heavy manual labour
  • Handling tasks in heavy industry or in awkward places like delivery work
  • Repetitive tasks such as manual packing of goods
  • Sitting at a workstation for a long period of time such as when working with computers especially if the workstation is not correctly arranged or adjusted to fit the person using it
  • Driving long distances or over rough ground particularly if the seat is not properly adjusted or adequately sprung, stooping, bending over, crouching or carrying out stretching, twisting and reaching tasks
  • Pushing, pulling or dragging loads that require excessive force
  • Working beyond normal abilities and limits or when physically overtired

Symptoms include painful, tenderness or stiffness of the backbone, unable to straighten or bend your back properly. In extreme cases sufferers are unable to move due to the pain and numbness or paralysis may occur. For muscular problems, there may be tenderness, aches and pains, stiffness, weakness, tingling, numbness, cramp and swelling to your muscles of the torso, which may cause some breathing issues too e.g. pain on taking deep breaths.

Back pain is not usually due to any serious damage or disease. The pain usually improves within days or a few weeks, at least enough to get on with your life. Only a few people have back pain that is caused by a more serious issue such as a slipped disc or a trapped nerve and even these usually get better by themselves.

If you have severe pain which gets worse over several weeks, or if you are unwell with back pain, you should see your doctor. If you do have back pain and suddenly notice any of these symptoms, which are rare, you should see a doctor straight away:

  • Difficulty passing or controlling urine
  • Numbness around your back passage or genitals
  • Numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in both legs
  • Unsteadiness on your feet.

The general advice to those suffering from back pain is to stay active and try simple pain relief. However, if the pain persists or causes extreme discomfort then you should contact your GP for medical advice.

Because back pain has many causes, a precise diagnosis is not always possible and this makes management of the pain all the more important. There are options that your medical advisers may suggest such as physiotherapy, chiropractic or osteopathy.