It can be difficult to work out the exact cause of back pain as the network of bones, muscle and connective tissue around the spine is so complex that there are many different possibilities. There are also different types of back pain (acute, which comes on suddenly after an injury and chronic, which can occur over time or remain after an injury has been treated) and varying levels of severity. Here 10 of the most common causes of back pain to help you determine what’s causing your discomfort:
- Lifting heavy objects
Lifting heavy objects places strain on our backs and this can lead to chronic pain. Lifting also carries a risk of acute injury if you make a sudden movement or jar your back. If you’re moving house or lift heavy items as part of your job, make sure you maintain the correct posture and use aids to help you where possible. Bend your knees, keep your back straight and push up gently. Avoid slouching or moving too quickly when you lift as this can lead to injury.
- Posture problems
Poor posture is responsible for many cases of back pain and correcting the way you sit, walk and stand can make a positive difference. Sit or stand with a straight back, hold your head up high and keep your shoulders back. Doing this aligns your spine and provides support for your neck. Try to avoid slouching and bending for long periods of time and take regular breaks at work.
- Sports injuries
Sporty exercise is very good for us, but it often carries a risk of injury and back pain is relatively common among both elite and amateur athletes. Back pain is particularly common in skiing, weightlifting and cycling, but can occur during any sporting exercise. If you do regularly participate in a sport, physiotherapy might be beneficial to condition your back. You could also wear a back support to reduce injury risk. It’s also important to warm up thoroughly before playing to avoid pulling a muscle.
Falling carries a major risk of back injury and a fall has the potential to be very serious if you land awkwardly or injure specific parts of your back. Although falls aren’t always preventable, there are some safety considerations you can employ, such as taking care whilst walking upstairs and wearing suitable footwear when walking on uneven surfaces.
Overusing your back can cause pain, particularly if it has been put under a lot of stress. Examples include if you’ve been moving house and doing a lot of packing, unpacking and lifting furniture around. Overuse injuries are also common in sports that involve repetitive actions like jumping or throwing.
It is common to experience back pain during pregnancy, especially in the latter stages. Ways to ease the pain include using pregnancy pillows, maintaining correct posture and stretching. Some women also find it beneficial to practice yoga (make sure you attend a class suitable for pregnant women if you choose this method) or swimming. Heat packs and hot baths will also soothe back pain during pregnancy.
Carrying excess weight places greater strain on the muscles surrounding the spine and creates a higher risk of developing back pain. If you want to lose weight, your practice nurse or GP can help. The best way to lose weight for long-term results is to adopt a healthy eating plan and conduct regular exercise.
- Underlying health conditions
Back pain is sometimes associated with underlying health conditions such as arthritis, sciatica and a slipped disc (also referred to as a prolapsed disc). In rare cases, pain in the back can be caused by an infection or tumour. If you think you might be suffering from any of these conditions, please contact your GP as soon as possible.
- Standing for long periods of time
Many of us are familiar with a feeling of discomfort after an afternoon of shopping, a long day of walking or standing in a queue for hours on end. People in certain professions, such as hairdressing and nursing, often experience back pain as a result of their job. If you stand up a lot, try to keep your posture correct and take breaks where you can to sit down and have a rest from time to time.
- Accidents and trauma
Your back is very fragile and even a seemingly innocuous incident can cause damage. Car accidents, slips, trips and falls can all result in back pain and it’s important to see a medical professional as soon as possible following any of these incidents.