Back Pain

Video Credit: Cheshire & Merseyside Back Pain Campaign

Back pain is common with 80%  of people having an episode of back pain in their lifetime. In most cases, this will improve within a few days / weeks. Very few cases are due to serious disease.

Back pain can be very painful and disabling leading to a big impact on your everyday activities at work and home. Most back pain will recover without any medical intervention.

Understanding your back pain and the right things to do helps reduce the fear and concern about the condition. This along with keeping moving helps you to recover more quickly.

Episodes of back pain are usually short-lived and most people will see an improvement by doing the following:

  • Continue with your day-to-day life as much as possible - Gentle movement / activity helps speed recovery. Remember pain does not mean you are damaging your back and you should improve more quickly if you continue to move, even if this causes some discomfort. 

  • Take regular pain relief - Seek advice from a pharmacist if you are unsure what to take.

The body needs time to heal. You should start to feel gradual improvement after 7-10 days but if after 2 weeks there is little change, or if your pain is severe contact your GP surgery. 

More about back pain


Sciatica is a pain that travels down from your lower back or buttock, to your foot. It usually happens when the jelly within the discs that separate the bones of your spine (vertebrae) pushes out of the disc and irritates the sciatic nerve. Swollen muscles, joints or ligaments can also irritate the nerve causing sciatica. The sciatic nerve runs down through the back, into the buttock, down the back of the leg and round to the outside of the lower leg and foot. When the nerve gets compressed or irritated, the brain interprets the pain as coming from the buttock or leg instead of the back, where the problem actually is. The pain is often a severe shooting pain, sometimes accompanied with pins and needles or numbness. You should seek urgent medical attention if you experince any of the following: - loss of control of your bladder or bowel - numbess around your saddle (genital) area - problems with the coordination of your steps when walking

Acute back pain

Acute back pain can come on suddenly, or over time and can range from a mild pain or ache to quite severe pain, which can be extremely distressing and can sometimes stop you carrying out your everyday activities. It is often difficult to identify why your back is painful as the pain can come from joints, muscles or nerves being inflammed, stretched or compressed. It can often be caused by lifting or moving awkwardly. However, more often than not, acute back pain comes on without any specific injury to your back. You may experience:

  • Back pain
  • Muscle spasm
  • Stiffness
  • Leg pain (sciatica)
Watch the video above to find out how to help with this. For most cases of back pain, X-ray and scans are of little benefit.

Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain refers to pain that has not gone away after three months. Like acute back pain, it is usually caused by a strain or a sprain in the back - but the pain and distress can last for much longer and it can have a big impact on your day-to-day life.

Chronic back pain can range from a mild pain or ache, to a more severe pain. This can depend on a variety of things, such as how happy you are at home or at work, if you are prone to depression or if you have had back pain before. Chronic back pain usually requires treatment such as medication or physiotherapy. In most cases though, your back will heal itself. It is important that you keep active and continue as normal, but if your pain is severe and persistent then you should seek medical advice for diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.

The Myths about back pain. 

from The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy
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Harrogate & District NHS Foundation Trust, Lancaster Park Road, Harrogate, HG1 7 SX