Acute Back Pain

Acute Back Pain

Acute back pain is common and usually not serious. The pain can be debilitating at the time. You may be able to do daily tasks but are unable to carry on with physical activities and sports. You may not be able to go to work, sit and drive or lift your kids. Your experience of pain and disability is all relative to you, the individual. Past experience and the emotions you attach to your back pain will influence your pain experience and your recovery. Acute back pain could be caused by inflammation along the facet joints, muscle spasms or it can be related to disc problems.

What causes sudden acute back pain? There are a few things that can contribute to acute low back pain. The exact cause is not known. Often something can trigger it such as twisting your back while lifting, bending forwards, backwards or just an awkward position (like reaching into the back of the car boot).
It doesn’t have to be a heavy object or dramatic movement and is often a motion you have done multiple times before. But this time something goes in your back.

Muscle spasm is often a protective response, resulting in lower back pain and a limited range of movement. Acute back pain causes may restrict you from sitting or standing comfortably, and often the best relief is found lying down.

It has nothing to do with your poor posture, weak core abdominal muscles or being too flexible or too inflexible. Acute back pain can happen to anyone. You can protect your back by being active, and fit, having strong muscles, good posture and using safe lifting techniques. However, this acute pain is often a case of ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ for your spine.

Your spine is made up of several bony vertebrae stacked on top of each other. Between them are spongy discs that work like shock absorbers or padding. Each vertebra has a bony prominence on either side forming a facet joint between the vertebra above and below. Facet joints are strengthened by ligaments and they are small. These joints together with surrounding muscles and the ligaments help to support and stabilise the spine while allowing for movement.

Back muscles can become strained not unlike pulling a hamstring muscle. One can sprain the small ligaments of the facet joints in a similar way to rolling your ankle. In this regard, inflammation and pain can develop resulting in acute back pain.

Acute back pain
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This happens in less than 1% of individuals with back pain. However, if your back pain is associated with any of the following you should seek medical care.

  • Sudden or recent difficulty emptying or controlling your bladder or bowels(especially incontinence).
  • If you feel severely ill including fever and chills.
  • Numbness around your bottom or genital area.
  • Shooting pain down BOTH legs.
  • New leg weakness or inability to walk. 
  • Recent significant trauma involving your back.
  • Most acute lower back pain does not require immediate imaging (X-rays or MRI) and can be managed conservatively.
  • Avoid bed rest where possible.
  • Getting information or education about your back pain and self-care options from your physical therapist is key.
  • You can be reassured that there is a very low risk that there is any serious underlying condition.
  • It is important to stay moving, be active and exercise.
  • Avoid prolonged use of drugs or opioid medication.
Back pain causes
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