When Your Back ‘Goes Out’
Low back pain is a very common occurrence and is said to affect 80% of people at some time in their life. Common causes of acute low back pain are sudden unexpected movements i.e. bending: lifting while twisting, or trauma such as a fall or a motor vehicle accident.
Others can injure their lower back simply if bending to brush their teeth. The low back pain can come on instantly, with acute muscle spasm or locking. Sometimes it is impossible to move or to straighten to an upright position. Other acute low back pain can come on more slowly; up to 2 days post injury, as swelling gradually accumulates.
What to do
- Relax! No matter how bad the pain is it will get better.
- If the pain is less than 48 hours use ice, use heat if the pain has been present for more than 48 hours. Heat can be in the form of hot showers, an electric heating pad, a microwaveable pad or hot water bottle.
- Try to remain as active as the pain will allow. Some discomfort with moving around is normal. Research has proven that keeping active i.e. puttering around (stand a little, sit a little, walk a little) will allow you to get better quicker.
- If you are unable to move or if movement greatly increases the spasm then you may require more rest. See the sleep position article for some advice on the best resting positions.
- There is good evidence that Manual Therapy will get you better quicker. Research has proven that Manual Therapy performed in the first 16 days and when the pain is in the back and thigh is most effective.
- Pain radiating down the leg will also improve with manual therapy but might also require specific exercises and/or positioning to relieve the pain. Traction can be of benefit especially when the leg pain is radiating below the knee.
- Modalities such as electrical stimulation can be of benefit.
- If the pain is constant you may benefit from anti-inflammatory medication, if the pain is keeping you from sleeping you might consider a muscle relaxant. If the pain is unbearable then you might consider a pain reliever. It is best to discuss this with your physician or pharmacist.