If you’ve ever had a sore lower back, you’re not alone. Around 80% of people in the UK will be affected by lower back pain at some point in their lives, and symptoms can range from a dull ache to a stabbing or shooting sensation.
NHS England describes back pain as the ‘single largest cause of disability in the UK, with lower back pain accounting for 11% of the total disability of the UK population’. In fact, the country lost a reported 30.8m sick days due to problems associated with achy lumbar regions, back, neck and upper limb problems in 2016. So it’s clear that lower backache is preventing many of us from working and carrying out everyday activities comfortably.
Understanding back pain
The symptoms of lower back pain
Shooting or stabbing pain in your back and sometimes into one or both legs.
The causes of lower back pain
Lower back pain is extremely common, but it doesn’t just affect the middle-aged and elderly. Back pain symptoms in younger people are on the rise, according to the British Chiropractic Association. The BCA has warned that increasing numbers of under 30s are seeking help for lower backache caused by spending long periods sitting at desks and being active for fewer than two hours a day.
Lower back pain can be triggered by a number of lifestyle choices and medical conditions.
Lifestyle risk factors
- Sedentary behaviour. Sitting for too long and not getting enough movement or exercise.
- Exercise and sporting injuries. At the opposite end of the spectrum, pushing yourself too hard in the gym or sustaining a sporting injury can trigger back strain.
- Poor posture. Forgetting about posture and the tendency to slouch adds strain on the back and can cause muscular back pain.
- Fashion choices. High heels not only affect standing and movement but change posture and can exacerbate lower back pain in the process.
- Occupational hazards. Jobs that require repetitive bending, lifting and standing or sitting for long periods without a break put employees at greater risk of back pain.
- Excess weight. Being overweight adds more stress to the back and joints.
- Smoking. One study found smokers three times more likely to develop chronic back pain.
Medical risk factors
- Pregnancy. Pregnant women are more likely to develop lower back pain due to carrying more weight and the loosening of ligaments caused by the body releasing the hormone relaxin.
- Slipped disc. Pain and back spasms can occur when a disc of cartilage presses on a nearby nerve.
- Sciatica. Irritation of the nerve that runs from the pelvis to the feet.
- Osteoarthritis. This is the most common type of arthritis in the UK,6 and causes joints to become painful and stiff.
Could you have Sciatica?
Many of those suffering from lower back pain may not have heard of Sciatica. This is an irritation of the sciatic nerve which runs from your hips to your feet. It usually goes away after four to six weeks but can last longer.
The signs and symptoms of Sciatica
If you have Sciatica you may experience a stabbing, burning or shooting pain in your bottom, the backs of your legs, or in your feet and toes. You may also have a tingling sensation and numb or weak feeling in those areas. You may have back pain along with some or all of these symptoms. However, you probably don’t have Sciatica if you’re just experiencing back pain.
If you think you have Sciatica, you can relieve pain and speed up recovery by:
- Regularly stretching your back
- Doing gentle exercise
- Using heat packs on painful areas
- Speaking to your pharmacist about painkillers that can help
- Avoiding sitting or lying down for long periods
- Not using hot water bottles to relieve pain, as there is a risk of scalding numb skin.
To confirm a diagnosis of Sciatica and treatment, contact your GP. You should go to A&E or call 999 immediately if you experience:
- Sciatica on both sides
- Severe or worsening weakness or numbness in both legs
- Numbness around or under the genitals or anus
- Difficulty passing urine or loss of bladder control
- No urge to empty your bowels or loss of control when you do.
These could be symptoms of a serious back problem that needs to be treated urgently in hospital.
Could it be Osteoarthritis?
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in the UK,6 so you’ve probably heard of it or know someone who has it. It’s a disease of the joints - and your back has plenty of those. As we age, the cartilage lining our joints fades away and puts more pressure on our joints. Inflammation develops, and this affects movement.
The signs and symptoms of Osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis makes the joints painful and stiff which can make it difficult to move and do certain activities. Symptoms can come and go with particular activities or can be persistent. Other symptoms can include joint tenderness, swelling, grating or crackling in the joints along with weakness and muscle wasting.
Learning to live with Osteoarthritis
Unfortunately, there is no cure for Osteoarthritis. However, with the right support, there are ways of coping with milder symptoms. You can help manage the condition by:
- Getting regular exercise
- Losing excess weight
- Wearing comfortable footwear
- Using special tools like long-handled shoehorns to reduce strain on your joints and back.
Managing, relieving and treating lower back pain
Lower backache can be a daily challenge, but there is some good news. You can do a lot to relieve back-related aches and pains with home remedies and a few simple lifestyle changes.
Simple self-care tips
- Take up yoga or pilates. Yoga isn’t just a way to de-stress and release the tensions of the day. It can also help reduce back pain and strengthen muscles.
- Ditch the back-breaking accessories. Wearing high heels and carrying heavy bags can throw off your alignment, posture, and centre of gravity. Choose flat shoes or trainers instead - and try to travel light.
- Apply heated pads and cold compresses. Using heated packs and cold compresses on your lower back can provide some temporary relief from aches and pains.
- Change your sleeping position. Try laying on your back with a pillow under your knees to neutralise your spine.
- Try swimming. The buoyancy of the water allows you to get active while reducing the stress and impact on your joints and spine.
- Ask your pharmacist about taking painkillers. In addition to exercise and other therapies mentioned, you may consider taking painkillers if it’s stopping you from doing your normal activities. (See ‘Pain relief for backache’ below).
Long-term lifestyle changes
- Up your exercise. You don’t have to join a gym to improve your activity levels. Make simple changes like taking the stairs instead of the lift, or walking past the bus stop.
- No slouching. You may think you’re sitting comfortably but it’s important to keep your spine correctly aligned while sitting, standing and doing other activities.
- Avoid being deskbound all day. The longer you sit, the more pressure you’re putting on your lower spine - which can lead to discomfort. Get up and take regular walks, even trying gentle back twists - and always be mindful of your posture when sitting.
- Stop smoking. A study has shown a link between smoking and back pain,5 making it just one of the many reasons to quit.
- Avoid heavy lifting. Unsafe and improper techniques can cause back strain so it’s best to avoid any heavy lifting if you are suffering from back pain.
Pain relief for backache
Ibuprofen is an anti-inflammatory painkiller.
Check your symptoms below to see find which Nurofen products might be best for you.
Symptom: Mild to moderate muscular back pain
Recommended treatment: Nurofen Pain Relief 300mg Prolonged Release Capsules
Best for: Provide long-lasting pain relief for up to 12 hours*
*From a 600mg dose
How to use: Adults and children from 12 years: Take 1 or 2 tablets up to twice a day. Leave eight hours between doses and do not take more than 4 tablets in 24hrs.
Symptom: Mild to moderate joint and muscular pain
Recommended treatment: Nurofen Joint & Muscular Pain Relief 200mg Medicated Plaster
Best for: Continuously targets pain and inflammation at the source for 24 hours
How to use: Adults and adolescents from 16 years: One dose is equal to one medicated plaster. The maximum dose for a single 24-hour period is one medicated plaster.
Symptom: Pain and inflammation from sprains, strains and sports injuries
Recommended treatment: Nurofen Joint & Back Pain Relief Max Strength 10% Gel
Best for: Relieves pain and inflammation at the source with a cooling effect
How to use: Adults, the elderly, and children over 12 years: Squeeze 2 to 5cm (i.e. 0.8 to 2 inches) of gel (50mg to 125 mg ibuprofen) from the tube and lightly rub into the affected area until absorbed.
Visit our product pages to see our range of available relief from lower back pain.
Nurofen Pain Relief 256mg tablets. Contains Ibuprofen. For pain relief. Always read the label. Nurofen Joint & Muscular Pain Relief 200mg Medicated Plaster. For pain relief of muscular strains or sprains close to the joint of the upper or lower limb. Contains ibuprofen. Always read the label. Nurofen Joint & Back Pain Relief Max Strength 10% Gel. Contains ibuprofen. For pain relief. Always read the label.