Over the last 7 years, we have helped over 2,000 of our Hawke’s Bay community with back pain.
Back pain can often range from a mild, stiff ache, to severe pain that stops you from moving and unable to straighten. You may even have shooting pain in your leg as a result of the pain and difficulty getting around.
Understanding what is causing your pain is often the first step to getting help. Here are the top 3 causes of back pain:
Low back pain refers to pain in the area between your lowest ribs (around your waist) and your bottom. Non-specific means the cause of the pain is not serious or trigged from arthritis, infection or sciatica (an irritated nerve in your back). It also means that it is not possible to find a specific source of the pain (eg, joint, muscle, ligament, disc). Most low back pain is non-specific. Even the best imaging techniques cannot identify what is causing your back pain. The good news is that imaging is not required for you to manage the problem effectively.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE A NON SPECIFIC LOW BACK PAIN?
Your physiotherapist is trained to distinguish between serious and non-serious causes of low back pain. They will do this by asking you a series of questions about your pain and performing an examination of your back.
How EFFECTIVE IS PHYSIOTHERAPY FOR NON SPECIFIC LOW BACK PAIN?
A physiotherapist can help confirm that you have non-specific low back pain and rule out other conditions that require additional testing and treatment. Once a diagnosis of non-specific low back pain is confirmed, they can give you some advice about recovery time, what you can do and how your physiotherapist can offer to help speed up recovery. This will usually involve a combination of physiotherapy treatment and some things that you can do at home. Physiotherapy treatment might include hands-on therapy, education, exercises or a combination of these. Techniques to help you manage at home might include advice on how to stay active, how to manage the pain at home and at work, and how to return to your normal activity levels
Radicular pain (pain in your leg)
WHAT IS RADICULAR PAIN?
Radicular pain is a type of back pain that spreads from the back and travels down the leg below the knee. Sometimes there is no back pain and only leg pain. This sort of leg pain is thought to originate from irritated nerves near the spine. A more general term for this problem is sciatica-which relates to irritation of a nerve that affects the back of your leg.
Often the problem relates to irritation of the nerves as they exit the spine This can lead to different regions of the leg becoming sore and weak depending on which nerve branch is irritated. Most people who experience weakness related to this type of nerve compression recover their strength within one year, without any surgical intervention.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE RADICULAR PAIN?
If you have radicular pain, your leg pain might feel worse than your back pain, or you might have no back pain at all. Sometimes the leg pain is accompanied by a numb sensation in your foot or a feeling of weakness in your leg. Your physiotherapist is trained to distinguish between radicular pain and other causes of low back and leg pain. They will do this by asking you a series of questions about your pain and examining your back and legs. They might do some nerve tests, such as checking the reflexes, sensation and strength of your legs.
How EFFECTIVE IS PHYSIOTHERAPY FOR RADICULAR PAIN?
Once you have a clear diagnosis, your physio will be able to outline your treatment plan.
Evidence suggests that patients who receive non-surgical management, including physiotherapy, for radicular pain have similar long-term outcomes to those who have surgery. Like in other types of back pain, it is important to stay active and return to your normal activities as soon as possible. Your physiotherapist is expert in this area and can give you some strategies on how to do this.
Spinal Canal Stenosis (narrow spinal cord)
WHAT IS SPINAL CANAL STENOSIS?
Stenosis is a medical word for narrowing. In this case, it refers to narrowing of the spinal canal—the space between vertebrae (spinal bones) that allows for the spinal cord to run down the middle. As you age, your spinal canal naturally becomes more narrow. In some arthritic conditions such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, the canal becomes so narrow that the blood supply to the nerves in your spinal cord reduces. This can be associated with pain, numbness and weakness in both legs. While it sounds scary, spinal canal stenosis is reasonably common. In many cases, people who have signs of spinal canal stenosis on an X-ray or MRI have no symptoms whatsoever. It most commonly affects people over the age of 60.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE SPINAL CANAL STENOSIS?
Symptoms associated with spinal canal stenosis are usually better with sitting and worse with standing and walking. One hallmark is said to be the ‘shopping trolley sign’ where symptoms are rapidly relieved by leaning forward, for example, onto the handles of a shopping trolley.
How EFFECTIVE IS PHYSIOTHERAPY FOR SPINAL CANAL STENOSIS?
Your physiotherapist is trained to distinguish between spinal canal stenosis and other causes of low back pain and leg pain. They will do this by asking you a series of questions about your pain and examining your back. They might do some special tests such as check the reflexes, sensation and strength of your legs. Once a diagnosis of spinal canal stenosis is suspected, they can help you decide on how to best manage it.