Content Editor

Low back pain is soreness or stiffness in the back, between the bottom of the rib cage and the top of the legs.

Most people's low back pain is described as non-specific.  That means the pain is very unlikely to be caused by anything serious but may be due to a range of factors, including poor posture and muscle strains.
About 80% of people experience low back pain at least once in their lifetime with most individuals (75-90%) recovering within six weeks of onset.

What are the symptoms?
Low back pain is usually described as pain or stiffness in the lower back area sometimes with leg pain.
Those with symptoms in their leg are caused by pain from nerves in the spine.  Nerve root pain (also called radicular pain) is the medical name for pain coming from a nerve in the spine, this is more commonly known as sciatica. This can present as pain, numbness or tingling in the legs.
What causes low back pain?
Low back pain may be caused by a sprain of a ligament or muscle or it may be due to a minor problem with the disc, joints or other soft tissues structures in the lower back. It is usually impossible to say exactly where the pain is coming from, or exactly what is causing the pain.

To some people, not knowing the exact cause of the pain is unsettling. However, looked at another way, many people find it reassuring to know that the diagnosis is non-specific back pain which means there is no serious problem or disease of the back or spine.

How is it diagnosed?
Diagnosis is usually made from the patient's history and a simple examination.  There is no test that can prove or confirm non-specific low back pain. Tests such as MRI scans may be advised only if there are symptoms to suggest that there may be a serious underlying cause for the back pain.
Seven golden rules of back pain management
  1. Keep moving: Your back is designed to move –  studies show that longer periods of rest and avoiding activity actually leads to more pain, longer recovery times and longer time off from work. 
  2. Keep living and working normally
  3. Avoid bed rest during the day
  4. Exercise: This might make your back feel a bit sore at first but it doesn't cause any harm.  Start off slowly and gradually increase the amount you do.  Over time, your back will get stronger and more flexible and this should reduce your pain.  These simple back exercises from ARC UK may be a useful starting point. 
  5. Don't sit down for too long
  6. Don't be afraid to take simple painkillers in order to return to your usual.  Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen or anti-inflammatory gels may be helpful to control the pain and allow you to continue exercising. Discuss this with your GP or Pharmacist.
  7. Stay active and remember to reintroduce activities
Sedentary and inactive lifestyles increase the risk of developing pain in the back and can also delay your recovery, find out ways to improve your lifestyle
Are there any signs or symptoms to be concerned about?
Low back pain is rarely a sign of a serious problem, however if you experience the following complaints you should seek urgent help via your nearest Emergency Department for urgent assessment.
  • Inability to pass urine when you feel the need to go
  • Inability to stop a bowel motion or leaking
  • Numbness in or around your back passage, buttocks or between your inner thighs
  • A change in ability to get an erection
  • Have pain in both legs and/or worsening weakness in the legs
Further management options
If  there is no response to the self-management information above within four to six weeks, seek further advice from your Physiotherapist or GP.