a pain in the back

- Last updated on GMT

Most adults get low back pain at some time. It's one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor, and one of the main causes for people...

Most adults get low back pain at some time. It's one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor, and one of the main causes for people being off work. It's clear that physical demands at work such as lifting, bending, and twisting - elements of a typical day in the licensed trade - increase the chance of people reporting back pain. So what can be done to treat this occupational hazard? And how can you avoid it in the first place? First, some definitions. Doctors often divide back pain into “acute” and “chronic”. This isn't a question of how much your back hurts, but more of whether it's a short episode lasting less than 12 weeks (acute), or one that lingers on (chronic). Most back pain is then what doctors call “simple”. It typically affects people aged between 20 and 55 who are otherwise in good health. It affects the lower back, between the bottom of the shoulder blades and the buttocks, but sometimes spreads down to the thighs. The pain is “mechanical”, which means it varies with movement. A doctor will first try to establish whether a case of back pain is “simple”, or a more serious, but also rarer, complication such as nerve root damage or cancer.

Avoiding back painA common sense approach to exercise at work can help you avoid back pain. Lifting and carrying crates or shifting casks is not necessarily bad for your back, as long as you take lifting, lugging or shifting jobs at a steady pace and use a correct technique. For very heavy objects, get help from someone else or do the job in more manageable chunks. When lifting, bend your legs so that you are down to the level of the load you are lifting. Then, keeping a straight back, use the power of your legs to do the lifting. Avoid the opposite technique, straight legs and a bent back. Also, if you have to carry a heavy item around, make sure you hold the item close to your body.

Treating a bad backMedical treatment for back pain has been turned on its head in recent years. Where doctors once recommended bed rest, research has now shown that staying active and returning to ordinary activities as early as possible leads to a faster recovery and fewer recurrences. Research has also shown that the high-tech medical approach is not all that successful. X-rays or MRI scans often show nothing that can explain a bout of back pain. Exercise therapy and psychological support have been shown to work in some cases, especially for chronic back pain. Painkilling tablets can relieve symptoms, and over-the-counter ibuprofen is probably the starting point for most people. Doctors can prescribe muscle relaxants and stronger painkillers, but with stronger drugs, there is an increasing risk of side effects, such as stomach irritation. Some people find that spinal manipulation, such as osteopathy, can help. Research confirms that it can ease pain and help restore movement in some sufferers.For chronic back pain, occupational health doctors can help devise special programmes that combine a number of treatments and support to encourage people to get back to work as quickly as possible. The longer a person is off work with back pain, the more likely they are to stay off.

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