Getting your life back on track

26 April 2019

Whether it was caused by a winning kick in football, or just by lifting something heavy, back pain affects most people at some point in their lives. Mr James Langdon is a Consultant Spinal Surgeon at Spire Harpenden Hospital, he sees patients with back pain during every clinic. Here he explains the commonest causes of back pain and shares some top tips on how to manage acute back pain.

What are the common causes of back pain?
Back pain is very common. Your back is a complex structure made up of bones, muscles, nerves and joints. This can often make it difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of the pain. Back pain can be very severe and therefore is also quite frightening and usually many patients are understandably concerned that there is something seriously wrong with their back. In the majority of cases back pain is not caused by serious damage or disease but by minor soft tissues sprains or strains. Back pain can be triggered by everyday activities, can develop over time, or can come on suddenly for no apparent reason.

Very occasionally, back pain can be a sign that there is something more serious going on. If your back pain does not start to settle after 10 days or if it is getting progressively worse then you should consult a doctor. Whilst we may not always be able to tell you the cause of your back pain, we are very good at excluding serious causes of back pain. The signs that your pain may represent something more serious are called ‘red flags’.

Red flags

  • A history of previous cancer
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Feeling unwell
  • Change of your bladder or bowel function
  • Pain that wake you at night
  • Pain radiating into your arms or legs

What should I do if I have back pain?

The most important thing is to stay mobile and avoid prolonged periods of bed rest. It is often helpful to take some regular anti-inflammatories and pain killers. If you are more comfortable then you will be able to engage in more normal movement which will help you get better quicker. Many people find it helpful to see a physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor.

Mr Langdon’s top five tips for managing acute episodes of back pain

  1. Try to stay mobile and avoid prolonged bed rest
  2. Take pain killers regularly
  3. Avoid being in any one position for too long – whatever you are doing, have regular movement breaks to try and avoid your back from stiffening up
  4. Carry on your normal activities, but reduce the intensity
  5. Set up your computer so that the screen is at head height, encouraging you to sit up straight.


Dispelling some of the common myths around back pain

Myth 1: Best rest is good for back pain.
This is not true. Your back will respond much better to movement than inactivity.

Myth 2: Pain equates to harm.
No. It is important to try and stay mobile, even if this is causing you pain in your back.

Myth 3: I have back pain, therefore I need an MRI scan.
No. The majority of back pain comes from the soft tissues and an MRI scan is not generally helpful in assessing these. If the pain is not improving with time and physical therapy, or if there are red flag signs, then you should see a doctor as you may require a scan.


If you’re worried about ongoing back pain, book in to see Mr Langdon today at Spire Harpenden Hospital. With many happy patients and positive testimonials, Mr Langdon can help you to get your life back on track. Call our self-pay team today to book your consultation on 01582 788 412.

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