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Frequently Asked Questions

Low Back Pain

Low back pain refers to pain in the area between your lowest ribs (around your waist) and your buttocks. Most low back pain is non-specific, meaning the cause of the pain is not serious or triggered by arthritis or infection, nor is it causing sciatica (an irritated nerve in your back). It also means it is not possible to find a specific source of the pain such as a joint, muscle, ligament or disc. Even the best imaging techniques cannot identify what is causing your back pain, but the good news is that imaging is not required for you to effectively manage your back pain.

How do I know if I have non-specific low back pain?

Studies have identified some risk factors for acute (sudden onset) non-specific low back pain. These include lifting heavy loads at work and repeated lifting at work, as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking, obesity and depressive symptoms which can increase the risk of experiencing low back pain, but these factors only increase your risk of experiencing low back pain by a small amount.

Your physiotherapist is trained to distinguish between serious and non-serious causes of low back pain and they do this by asking a series of questions about your pain and by examining your back. Non-specific low back pain can be both acute (started recently and improves within a few weeks) or chronic (persisting after 6 weeks).

How can physio help my acute non-specific low back pain?

Once your physio has diagnosed this condition and ruled out conditions that would require additional testing and treatment, they will advise you on recovery time and what to do to speed up your recovery. This will usually involve a combination of hands-on treatment, exercise prescription and advice on what you can do both at home and at work to avoid aggravation so you can return to your normal activities.

Studies have identified some risk factors for developing persistent low back pain that has lasted for longer than six weeks. Your risk of having persistent non-specific low back pain is increased if you have high levels of pain or pain that extends into the leg, or if you are feeling down, depressed or very worried about your recovery. On their own, these factors only increase your risk of persistent low back pain by a small amount but in combination, they can double your risk of developing persistent non-specific low back pain.

How can physio help my persistent non-specific low back pain?

Your physio will rule out other conditions that require additional testing and treatment to confirm the diagnosis of persistent non-specific low back pain. They can then help you decide how to manage it, which usually involves a combination of hands-on treatment, exercises and advice on things you can do at home and at work.

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