Low Back Pain

Common back injuries & conditions

Back pain can be particularly difficult to diagnose due to the complexity and the number of structures and tissues in the lower back that can cause pain.  The most common causes are slipped discs and this can sometimes cause leg pain called Sciatica.  Below we outline some of the common back injuries and causes of back pain

Sacroiliac joint pain

Slipped disc

Coccyx injury

Facet joint pain

Sudden (acute) low back pain

Acute low back pain is often very painful back pain and comes on suddenly, usually from a movement such as bending over or twisting. The most common acute back injury is a Slipped Disc which can also cause Sciatica.  Initial treatment of acute low back pain is to make the patient as comfortable as possible and reduce pain and inflammation as quickly as possible. Click below to read more on how help relieve acute low back pain.

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Gradual onset (chronic) low back pain

Back pain can also be chronic or long term in nature and the pain is usually more of a dull ache but lasts longer.  Diagnosing the specific cause of chronic low back pain can be very difficult as there are a number of structures can cause or contribute to the pain.  Some of the more common causes are Sacroiliac Joint Pain or Facet Joint Pain (joints in the back).


When should I see a doctor?

Most back injuries will settle with appropriate rest and treatment however some require further assessment.  Lower back injuries occasionally require medical care, especially if they are severe. Similarly, those that are associated with pain that lasts a long time or experience ongoing impairment following a sporting injury should always be seen by a doctor or healthcare professional such as a physiotherapist, sports therapist, chiropractor or osteopath.

If you experience any of the following symptoms from a back injury you should seek professional medical advice:

  • Severe back pain that lasts more than 24 hours.
  • Dizziness or a feeling of unsteadiness.
  • Significant leg pain that came on after experiencing severe back pain.
  • Referred pain into the legs and/or feet following a back injury, especially if the symptoms do not decrease within 24 hours.
  • “Pins and needles” (paresthesia) feeling or “loss if feeling” (anaesthesia) in the legs or feet.
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits (unable to go to the toilet or unable to control going to the toilet)
  • Loss of feeling at the base of the back in the “saddle” area (called “saddle anaesthesia”)
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First Aid for Back Injuries

In the case of minor back injuries, it is recommended to follow a modified version of the P.R.I.C.E. therapy principle. This series of treatment methods can be applied at home for at least the first 2 - 3 days. P.R.I.C.E. stands for Protection, Rest, Ice, Compression and Elevation.

  • Protection - Protect the injury from further damage. For back injuries this is one of the most important principles to follow.  Where possible avoid the movement that caused the back pain the first place.  This is usually bending forward, heavy lifting or bending and twisting combined.
  • Rest - Refrain from exercise and try to reduce the demands of your daily activity to encourage recovery.  Heavy lifting should definitely be avoided.
  • Ice - The topical application of ice or cold therapy can assist in reducing the symptoms of pain and inflammation.  Ice wrapped in a damp towel should be applied to the back for 15 mins maximum. 
  • Compression – This is not possible for back injuries.
  • Elevation - This is not possible for back injuries.

Read more about all of the the P.R.I.C.E principles.

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Slipped Disc

This is the term to describe a bulge of the vertebral disc in the spine.  The disc is a jelly-like oval disc that sits between the vertebra in the back.  It acts as a shock absorber but can sometimes be damaged under extreme pressure. The types of damage that can occur are tears or herniations (bulges).  These bulges can push against the nerves that exit the back and track down into the leg.  If there is sufficient pressure on the nerve this can cause localized pain (in the area of the back) or referred pain into the leg (called Sciatica, see below).

Read more about Slipped Disc….


Sciatica is the term used to describe back pain which radiates down the leg. Sometimes you can experience sciatica (leg pain) without any back pain although the cause is coming from the back.  The lumbar spine (low back) has 5 bones (called vertebrae) and their function is to allow movement and protect the spinal cord that contains all the nerves that supply the hip, pelvis and legs.  Sometimes the nerve gets “pinched” or irritated in the back and this causes pain to radiate into the legs.  As a general rule, the more pressure on the nerve in the back, the further the pain goes into the leg and even foot.


Preventing Back Injuries

There are a number of ways to help prevent back pain and most of these involve minor tweaks to your lifestyle:

Back Pain and Driving

If you suffer back pain either during or after driving long distances, then you might ask yourself the following questions; Why does driving cause low back pain? What is the best driving position? What can help ease low back pain when driving? How do I know if my seat is positioned correctly? For the answer ...


Preventing back pain at work

If you sit at a desk for work for long periods and suffer with back pain, the cause of the back pain might be the way you are sitting or the way your desk is set up.  The first line of treatment for this type of back pain is to carry out an ergonomic assessment.  This can either be done by a health and safety officer at your work or by yourself.  Ergonomics is the process of optimising human well-being and performance and involves assessing and improving safety, comfort, productivity and ease of use of equipment. 

To find out how to carry out a Simple Ergonomic Assessment, Read more...

Back pain and posture

For many people back pain is directly related to poor posture, in both standing and sitting. The majority of people will have at least one, usually more, postural abnormalities. After all if you go back a few evolutionary steps, we walked on all fours! Evolving to walk on two legs has placed a large amount of stress on our spines.


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Kinesiology taping for low back pain

A simple use of kinesiology tape can help reduce back pain in some situations.. Read more...