Back pain is probably the most widespread, common, and potentially disabling injury in modern society. It is also one of the most misunderstood.
It is commonly thought that prompt diagnosis and treatment of sudden onset (often called acute) back pain by well qualified physiotherapists gives those suffering from acute back pain, the best chance to resolve this problem quickly and avoid longer term problems and re-occurrence.
What you may feel:
- You will most likely experience a dull ache and sometimes a sharp pain
- It may have come on ‘out of the blue’ or when you woke up in the morning.
- It is also common to experience a minor episode of pain the day before waking up with strong pain the next morning
You may have:
- Pins and needles/numbness in your hands or legs.
- Tightness or referred pain into you gluteal (bottom) muscles.
- Pain at night initially.
- Pain when breathing deeply or coughing.
How does it happen?
Disc injuries occur due to what you did the day before and are associated with prolonged forwards bending, gardening, housework, lifting objects with bad posture, etc.
They can occur when you are picking something up from a flexed forward and twisted position
What is the cause?
By sustaining a flexed position you put a lot of pressure on parts of your discs.
If there is a weakness in the back of your disc the fluid in the discs can seep out the back and cause irritation to the surrounding structures and environment, which causes inflammation and pain.
Can I ‘slip a disc’?
No. Discs cannot ‘slip’ in and out of place.
They certainly can be damaged, but cannot then be ‘slipped back in’.
What should I do?
Initially you should perform:
- Active Rest – Try to keep your back moving within your pain limits
- Avoid aggravating activities
- Heat – Every hour place a heat pack on the sore area for 10-15 minutes
- Medicine – Paracetamol pain relief straight away
- Massage – Gentle massage is ok, as long as it is not painful
- Make an appointment with your physiotherapist for assessment, treatment and advice
You should avoid:
- Prolonged sitting
- Heavy lifting
- Complete rest
Research has shown that X-rays provide little or no help in diagnosis acute back pain, and in many cases can provide false and misleading causes of the pain.
How long before you have recovered?
It depends on the severity of the injury.
A disc injury can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks or even months.
Usually with physiotherapy and a home exercise program you will feel a lot better within a week.
You may not be completely free of pain but you will be able to function a lot better and with decreased pain.
Whilst disc injuries (like all back injuries) can be painful and very limiting, very few ever result in any form of long term disability, and the vast majority will heal well, with keeping active and proper treatment, exercise, and advice.
For further information, see your local Lifecare practitioner.