Acute Low Back Pain
What is acute low back pain?
Acute low back pain is one of the most common medical problems in the developed world. Acute low back pain, is pain that has been present for around 4–6 weeks (less than 3 months). When referring to ‘mechanical low back pain’ this means pain that is caused by one or a few of the following structures in the lower back. Spinal joints, vertebrae, soft tissues such as muscles, tendon and ligaments and discs. Acute mechanical back pain may also be referred to as acute low back pain, idiopathic (i.e., of unknown cause) low back pain, lumbar syndrome, lumbosacral strain, pinched nerve, ruptured disc, slipped disc, lumbago or lambosacral sprain.
What causes mechanical low back pain?
Generally speaking, chiropractors, physiotherapists and medical doctors can identify the reason for mechanical low back pain around 20% of the time, while 80% of the time the reason cannot be identified. In some cases, a specific trauma or activity can be the cause of back pain. It implies the source of back pain is in the spine and it’s supporting structure. It’s common for the surrounding muscles to become irritated and then inflamed. Only about 1% of people who develop acute low back pain is due to a serious cause, such as cancer or infection. At Sydney Spine & Sports Centre (S3C), we understand how important it is to achieve classification and diagnosis of acute low back pain. This diagnosis will allow our chiropractors and physiotherapists to direct and give an effective, reliable and safe treatment.
What are the symptoms of acute low back pain?
While most people experience mechanical low back pain in their lower back, it is common for the pain to spread to other parts of their body, such as the knees, thighs and buttocks. Back pain can also cause spasms for many people, with symptoms becoming most noticeable when lifting heavy objects or during flexion. If you are experiencing these symptoms and they persist, it is important to see a chiropractor or physiotherapist.
How is mechanical acute low back pain diagnosed?
At S3C, our chiropractors and physiotherapists can determine and diagnose mechanical back pain through a physical examination and a person’s medical history. With this information our chiropractors and physiotherapists will work with the patient to develop a tailored treatment plan aiming for a pain free result. If through symptoms or examination your physician has determined the possibility of infection, a pinched nerve or malignancy, they may arrange for additional tests to be done. These tests may include an MRI, CT scan, x-ray or nerve conduction studies.
How is acute low back pain treated?
Back pain is most often treated through pain relief medication, chiropractic and physiotherapy. At S3C our conservative treatments will depend on the cause of the low back pain. Regardless of the cause of the acute low back pain our chiropractors at Balmain will use safe, effective and evidence-based treatments and recommendations that have been proven to work.
Bed rest typically not recommended by our clinicians as it can lead to longer recovery times. However, bed rest is recommended for patients who are experiencing severe back pain and muscles spasms; however, only for a short-term period of 48 hours. If you have exceeded 48 hours of bed rest then it is recommended you get up and move. This promotion of movement is the main ingredient of evidence based physiotherapy and chiropractic treatments for low back pain. S3C is a back pain treatment centre of excellence, our chiropractors use safe, effective and evidence-based treatments to help with neck and back pain.
For quick recovery from acute low back pain, early physical activity, chiropractic and physiotherapy are recommended. For mild acute low back pain, it is recommended that you maintain a normal daily schedule from the very beginning of the acute low back pain.
Ice and heat application
To help the muscles relax and decrease inflammation, heat and ice applications are effective at the very start of acute low back pain. It is recommended that you initially apply a heat application for 20 minutes and therefore an ice application for 20 minutes. However, if you find that one application is more effective than the other, then continue use of that one. The frequency of these applications should be 2-3 time per day. Our chiropractors at S3C will take you through all these recommendations. The technical word for all this is cryotherapy.
Muscle relaxants are prescribed in the event that a patient is experiencing muscle spasms, although only for a timeframe of 3-4 days. These medications are often non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen and serve as anti-inflammatories. On rare and more severe cases, analgesic may be prescribed, which can be taken with anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant medications. Our chiropractors at S3C will advise you on such strategies and refer you to your medical doctor when medications are indicated and needed.
In most circumstances, physiotherapy and chiropractic is a pivotal part of back pain rehabilitation. In regards to rehabilitation, it’s essential to work with a trained and specialised physiotherapist on an approach that is right for you and result in rapid healing. To return to work and daily activities, physiotherapy is encouraged to shorten the recovery of acute low back pain. One of the clinicians at S3C may require home exercises as frequently as every 2 hours, or as recommended by your physician. The benefit of these exercises at home is that they often only take 5 minutes and do not require any equipment. Passive physiotherapy, which is often for short-term symptom relief, involves procedures such as ultrasounds, massage, heat, diathermy and traction.
Chiropractic is a profession that specialises in non-surgical treatments of neck and back pain. A chiropractor should be your first contact when it comes to an acute non-traumatic bout of neck or back pain. Chiropractic treatments will largely depend on the cause of your pain. In the acute sense, sometimes an adjustment will be needs and sometimes not. At S3C our chiropractors use a judicious selection of treatments to ensure treatments are safe, effective and relieve your acute back pain.
When can I return to work?
If your job permits, our chiropractors and physiotherapists recommend that you return to work as quickly as possible to with modified duties based on your occupation. Your chiropractor or physiotherapist will write you a prescription outlining that you require modified work duties for a limited period.
The fear of reoccurring injury often deters people from a prompt return to work and other daily activities. However, reoccurring of injury is often low if proper treatment is being undertaken. Early return to work and other daily activities is recommended as it has been found to result in quicker recovery. Staying positive mentally is also imperative to rapid recovery. Please give one of our clinicians a call if you need more information on any of these points.
What is the outlook for people with back pain?
Around 90% of people with acute mechanical back pain are symptom and pain-free in 1-2 weeks as recovery can be very rapid, with the correct treatment process. The other 10% of people recover within a three-month period.
Attitude also plays an important part in recovery. Maintaining a positive attitude and continuing to partake in regular and daily activities is found to assist in a prompt return to work. To prevent reoccurrences, continuing the set home exercises is important to reduce the risk of further episodes of pain.