If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you know how debilitating and frustrating it can be. Back pain is one of the most common reasons that Canadians go to the doctor and often causes them to stay home from work.
Rarely, back pain can indicate a serious condition, but most of the time it feels much worse than it is. Most often, the pain is related to your muscles, joints and ligaments, and not to your spine. Back pain is commonly triggered by muscle or ligament strains or spasms, by lifting something heavy, by bending, or by moving suddenly or awkwardly.
When back pain lasts for a few days or weeks, it’s called “acute” back pain. If you take it easy, this kind of pain should feel better within 72 hours, although the pain may take a while to go away completely.
If your pain lasts for longer than three months, it’s called “chronic” back pain.
Back pain symptoms: what it feels like
There are several symptoms for back pain:
- Limited back flexibility
- Muscle ache
- Not being able to stand up straight
- Pain that goes down your leg
- Shooting or stabbing pain
When is back pain serious?
If your pain is a result of a back injury or fall, or if you have any of the following symptoms in addition to back pain, you might have a more serious condition:
- Constant, intense pain (especially when you lie down)
- New problems with your bladder or bowels
- Pain or throbbing in your abdomen
- Pain that spreads down one or both legs, especially if it goes below your knee
- Weakness, numbness or tingling in your legs
- Weight loss you can’t explain
Other factors that may mean you’re at higher risk for a serious back condition include:
- Being over 50 and having back pain for the first time
- Having had cancer
- Having a history of osteoporosis
- Having used steroids in the past
- Having ever abused drugs or alcohol
Why did I get back pain?
Back pain is a very common condition, and sometimes we don’t know why people get it. There are, however, certain things that can make it more likely that you will get back pain.
These factors can increase your risk:
- Being a smoker
- Being obese
- Being female
- Having a physically demanding job
- Having a sedentary job
- Older age
- Stress at work
What can I do about back pain?
It may surprise you to know that staying active can actually help you recover more quickly from back pain. Traditionally, doctors advised bed rest until the pain went away, but new research shows this is not a good solution. As soon as you are able, try to resume some of your normal activities. You may need to move more carefully, but not moving at all can actually make your pain get worse or last longer.