Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints seen by a GP or healthcare professional. It is estimated that over 80% of Australians will experience lower back pain at some point in their lives. Lower back pain may be acute (new pain) or chronic (longstanding pain), and it can range from mild and annoying to severe and debilitating.
There are numerous things which may cause or contribute to the development of lower back pain. Science has allowed us to understand how pain as a sensation works, therefore (except in certain circumstances) the new consensus amongst osteopaths, doctors, scientists and other health professionals is that the old advice of resting, avoiding activity and using strong medication does not have to be your first option.
We used to think that degeneration, arthritis or disc bulges were the sole cause of the sensation of lower back pain, whereas we now understand that these conditions are a normal part of ageing, such as the wrinkles on our skin are. We know that people who have these conditions as shown on an x-ray or scan often don’t have pain, and conversely, people with very good-looking scans can have severe pain. This means that conditions such as arthritis do not account for pain on their own, and that scan results are poorly correlated with pain. It also means that a skilled practitioner such as an osteopath using skilled diagnosis and assessment, will be able to help you understand why your pain is present, and work with you to try and reduce or prevent your pain.
Whilst muscles and joints anywhere within our body may become hurt if too much force is placed upon them (an ankle sprain for instance), it is widely accepted that exercise, particularly strengthening exercise, may assist with lower back pain.
Exercise helps us to recover from pain in a few ways – it improves blood flow to an injured area, thereby carrying oxygen and nutrients needed for healing to where they need to be. It also desensitises nerves, reducing pain. Exercise improves our strength, flexibility and balance. These attributes don’t remove pain on their own, but collectively allow ease of completion for day to day tasks such as working, cooking or cleaning.
Osteopaths are health professionals who are highly trained to treat lower back pain.
An osteopath will explain to you why your pain is present, assist to relieve it with manual therapy and identify any barriers to your recovery. During a consultation with an osteopath, your practitioner will first discuss your case and thoroughly assess your condition.
Osteopathic treatment may be applied for a few reasons – first of all, pain relief. Osteopathic treatment may reduce muscle spasm and increase ease of movement, decreasing pain. With increased movement comes increased ability to exercise, and after assessing your condition, your osteopath will be able to fully guide you through any appropriate exercise that may speed up your recovery.
So, before you consider strong pain killers, injections or surgery, have a chat to your local osteopath!
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Written by Claire Richardson on behalf of Osteopathy Australia.