Many sufferers of back pain are unaware of the options available to them to help ease their suffering.
There are two main types of back pain.
Non-specific back pain is caused by sprains, muscle strains and minor injuries, alternatively it can be caused by a pinched or irritated nerve.
Sciatica is a condition caused by a nerve in the spine being irritated or compressed.
A slipped disc is where one of the discs of the spine splits and the gel inside leaks out.
And ankylosing spondylitis is a condition where the joints at the base of the spine become inflamed.
It is very important to see your GP urgently if you experience feelings of numbness or tingling in your legs, or if you are having difficulty walking.
If you have previously suffered from back pain or have a family history of back pain, it is particularly important to take care of your back.
A bad back can be caused or worsened by factors such as heavy lifting, repetitive work, static postures and vibration (for example, the vibrations that a driver experiences when driving a car or truck).
In the past, people who suffered with back pain were often advised to rest, with bed rest considered to be the best option.
However, inactivity is now thought to be the worst possible option for dealing with back pain and the advice is to continue with normal activities as much as possible.
You can also use painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen to deal with back pain – the best option is to start with paracetamol and topical ibuprofen. However, you should discuss any concerns with your GP first and get advice from your pharmacist or GP about taking pain killers, especially if you might be taking them over a prolonged period of time or with other medication.
Hot or cold packs can be applied to the painful area to provide some relief.
You can either buy specialist packs from pharmacies or a bag of frozen peas can be used as a cold pack.
To avoid damaging your skin, it’s best to wrap the packs in a towel or cloth before applying to the affected area. Try out both hot and cold packs to see which works best.
Another way to combat back problems is to try simple stretches and gentle exercise, as recent studies suggest that this is a very good way to reduce back pain.
Examples of stretches can be found at backcare.org.uk, however, it is important to consult a professional first, to make sure you are not overdoing it and causing further damage to your back.
Contact your GP who can assess your symptoms and, if appropriate, refer you to a qualified exercise professional or a physiotherapist who will be able to provide a tailored exercise programme which best suits your needs and capabilities.
In addition to exercise, good posture and taking care when lifting objects is important. To maintain a good posture, avoid slumping in your chair or hunching your shoulders. When lifting heavy objects, ensure that you bend your knees and keep your back straight.
This year’s Backcare Awareness Week (from October 17-23) will focus on the back health of school children and teachers, as many are at risk due to lifting heavy school bags and sitting on badly-designed chairs.
However, it is important for everyone to consider the effects of their lifestyles on their back.
For more information about manual lifting, exercise, posture and back care advice, visit backcare.org.uk. You can also ring the helpline for advice on 0845 130 2704.
If you are very concerned about your back pain, arrange to see your GP to discuss treatment options.