Frequently Asked Questions
What causes back pain?
Experiencing back pain is a normal part of everyday life and around 8 in every 10 people will experience it at some point. In the majority of cases it is not caused by anything serious and most symptoms settle within six to eight weeks.
For most people the main symptoms are pain and stiffness in the lower back and this might make it difficult to carry out certain tasks such as bending, standing or sitting. Sometimes however symptoms such as pain, numbness or tingling might be felt in the leg and this can be a sign that a nerve is being irritated in the back.
Is there anything I should look out for?
If you notice any of the following symptoms then seek medical attention urgently.
- Sudden changes in your bladder or bowel habits
- Numbness around your genitals or bottom
- A loss of control of your legs
- Any recent significant trauma
Also, you should see your GP if you have any of the following:
- A fever and generally feeling unwell
- A previous history of cancer
- Any unexplained weight loss
What can I do to help?
Most episodes of back pain normally settle within six to eight weeks but while you are in pain it can become daunting to move. It’s important to try and remain as active as possible, varying your posture throughout the day. Although certain activities might be painful to do, pain doesn’t mean that you are causing any more damage. Try and continue with all of your normal daily activities as it will help with your recovery.
Other lifestyle factors such as stress, anxiety, low mood and a lack of sleep can also affect how we interpret pain. Addressing these issues can help you manage your pain. You can also take a look at some of our resources such as our pain toolkit for more information.
Do I need a scan?
Carrying out routine scans for low back pain is not necessary. Around 95% of scans don’t show anything important but they will show normal age related changes such as spondylosis or disc bulges. An assessment by your GP or physiotherapist should help to determine if you need a scan.
Should I take pain killers?
If you are considering taking any medication then it is important to have a discussion with a pharmacist or your GP. Taking pain relief can help keep your pain under control which will allow you to remain active and this should aid your recovery.
Should I take some time off work?
In the vast majority of cases taking time off work isn’t necessary. It is probably worth having a discussion with your employer if you find certain work tasks difficult to do while you are in pain. Occasionally your GP or physiotherapist might suggest a short period of time away from work, especially if work tasks appear to be aggravating the problem. It is important to try and return to work as soon as you can though, as remaining off work is linked to a poorer long term outlook.