Do you suffer from back pain? You’re not alone. Back pain and sciatica are very common conditions in the UK. If you’ve experienced back pain you’ll know how debilitating and disruptive it can be. It can affect your ability to sleep, work, socialise and do everyday things. Lower back pain is also the leading cause of disability in the UK.
In many cases, back pain is caused by wear and tear on the joints and discs in the spine. The bones in your spine each have a soft cushion of material between them called a vertebral disc. A slipped disc is a common cause of lower back pain and means that one of the cushions between the bones has moved out of place and is pressing on a nerve, causing pain.
Sciatica is usually caused by a slipped disc in a position that affects the sciatic nerve. This nerve runs from your spine, down both legs to your feet. Sciatica can cause not only back pain but also pain, numbness and pins and needles in your legs and feet.
Sciatica can also be caused by spondylolisthesis, which occurs when a bone rather than a disc has slipped out of position, or by spinal stenosis, which is a narrowing of the spinal canal. People who have previously had a back injury or fracture may also suffer from sciatica.
In most cases, sciatica and lower back pain can be treated at home with painkillers and rest. It can take a few weeks to improve. Seeing a physiotherapist or osteopath can help speed up your recovery. These professionals use manipulation, stretches and massage to alleviate your pain and symptoms.
Although rest is needed for recovery, it is also important to keep moving. Sciatica sufferers in particular can get relief from doing some simple stretching exercises at home, such as gentle yoga poses.
The reclining pigeon pose is a yoga pose that is great for opening up the hips. Lie down on your back with your knees bent and feet on the mat, then raise your right leg, bend your knee and rest your ankle on your opposite thigh just below your left knee. If this is enough of a stretch, hold it for up to a minute before gently releasing and repeating on the other side. If you feel you need more of a stretch, lift your left leg when you’re in position and hold it behind your thigh with both hands, pulling the leg towards you gently. Again, hold for up to a minute then repeat on the other side.
This yoga pose and other stretches that work the piriformis muscle (a muscle deep in your buttocks) can help relieve your pain. This is because the piriformis muscle can press against your sciatic nerve if it becomes inflamed and stretching it can reduce this pressure.
It’s important to approach any exercise with caution and not overstretch your muscles. Listen to your body — if you’re in pain then you’re pushing yourself too hard. You can learn how to master exercises that will help your lower back pain by working with a physiotherapist.
As with most things, prevention is the best treatment. Regular gentle exercise, such as swimming or yoga, is a great way to keep your back active and healthy and avoid your back pain returning.
If you’ve been suffering from lower back pain or sciatica for over four weeks or it’s not responding to painkillers then make an appointment with your GP for an assessment. They may refer you to a doctor who is a spinal specialist, who will examine you and ask about your pain and lifestyle.
You may need to have an X-ray or MRI scan of your back. Once a diagnosis has been made, your doctor will discuss the best course of treatment with you. Physiotherapy is often the first course of treatment. However, other treatments may be needed, such as facet joint injections or other targeted injections. These are usually very effective and are low-risk options.
In rare cases, spinal surgery may be recommended. Modern techniques are less invasive, which means a faster recovery from surgery.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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Over the last five years Cahoot Care Marketing has built an experienced team of writers and editors, with broad and deep expertise on a range of care topics. They provide a responsive, efficient and comprehensive service, ensuring content is on brand and in line with relevant medical guidelines.
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Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager
Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.
Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor
Catriona has an English degree from the University of Southampton and more than 12 years’ experience copy editing across a range of complex topics. She works with a diverse team of writers to create clear and compelling copy to educate and inform.
Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing
Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.