Back pain is a very common problem affecting almost all individuals at some point in their lives. Back pain most commonly affects the lower back although it can be felt anywhere along the spine. An individual may experience aching, tension and stiffness that lasts for only a few days or weeks, or these symptoms may continue for many months or even years.
In most cases, back pain does not have a specific or serious cause and is often referred to as 'non-specific' pain. However, the pain can be triggered or worsened by, for example, a poor sitting or standing posture or bending or lifting incorrectly.
The use of painkillers and keeping active is often sufficient for the condition to resolve within 12 weeks. If back pain lasts longer than this, in which case it is termed chronic pain, an individual should visit their doctor. If the back pain is accompanied by any one of a fever, unexplained weight loss, swelling in the back, chest pain, leg pain, loss of bladder or bowel control, inability to pass urine, or pain that is worse at night, then medical help should be sought immediately. These are termed 'red flag symptoms' and could be a sign of something more serious such as rheumatoid arthritis, a slipped disc or osteoporosis.
People can reduce their chance of developing back pain by engaging in regular exercise, particularly swimming or walking, taking care to bend from the knees and hips rather than the back and maintaining a good posture.