Sitting for too long, standing still for too long, and repetitive bending exercises can all lead to back aches which can be painful and inconvenient. For the lucky ones, the pain is only temporary, but for those who suffer from chronic back pain (around 16% of the Australian population) the effects can cause serious disruption to their lives.
Professor Stuart Brierley, Director of the Visceral Pain Research Group within the Flinders University Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute and Director of the Hopwood Centre for Neurobiology at SAHMRI, says there are a few different types of back pain, and that getting to the cause of the problem is essential for long-term relief.
“Pain is our body’s alarm system,” Professor Brierley says. “It lets us know when something is going wrong. Whether the pain lasts for just a couple of days, or in the case of chronic pain, more than 12 weeks, it is always a good idea to see your GP or specialist to get a diagnosis. It could be something minor like a sprained muscle, or it could be a referred pain which may mean other more serious things are going on. It is always best to get it checked out.”
Broadly speaking, Professor Brierley states there are five different types of back pain, each stemming back to a different cause. These causes are:
“Treatment for back pain is considered on a case by case basis,” advises Professor Brierly. “Treatments for acute back pain can range from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory tablets and creams as well as ice or heat packs and gentle stretching.”
Chronic pain can be more difficult to treat.
“Treatment for chronic pain is dependent on accurate diagnosis of the cause,” Professor Brierley states. “Thankfully there have been advances in non-invasive diagnostic techniques that we can use for back pain (such as CT scans and bone scans) so we can get a better understanding of what is going on.”
With many people working from home more often because of COVID-19 social distancing recommendations, Professor Brierley recommends that it’s important to have your work area set up properly.
“At the office, our employers do a pretty good job of ensuring good ergonomic practices are in place. For example, you may have a large monitor and be using a sitting/standing desk. But many people haven’t moved these office essentials to their homes. Instead, they may be sitting on the couch with their laptop or hunched over the coffee table. If you are doing that for 8 hours a day then back and muscle pain can become a real problem.”
As Professor Brierley mentioned earlier, any pain we feel in our bodies is a sign that something is wrong.
“It is always a good idea to see you GP or specialist if you are feeling pain,” Professor Brierley says. “The sooner we can see a patient, the better chance we have of helping them overcome the pain or providing them with effective relief for the symptoms – particularly in the case of chronic pain. In all cases, if the pain is related to something serious, then the earlier we can detect something the better chance there is for positive long-term health outcomes.”