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Back Pain - A self help guide

As an MSK Physiotherapist, I see patients at least once a day suffering from acute and chronic back pain. Back pain is common, if you’re reading this i’m sure you have suffered at least one episode of back pain in your lifetime and in all likelihood more than that. It’s frustrating and restricting and can have a huge negative impact on your quality of life.

There are many reasons for back pain and unfortunately it’s rarely a quick fix. The most common form of back pain is often referred to as mechanical pain which is an umbrella term describing dysfunction in the soft tissues and joints preventing or impeding normal function.

This may be stiffness, weakness, muscle shortening, joint wear and tear or any combination of these plus other factors.

In the absence of acute trauma back pain rarely appears suddenly or overnight and for most it’s a gradual and cumulative process related to lifestyle. Our modern lifestyles are simply too sedentary with too many hours spent in static positions meaning our joints and muscles don’t get the movement stimulus they need to stay flexible, hydrated and healthy.

For many people what began as a minor back ache or stiffness spirals steadily into chronic pain and disability and it can seem like you’re stuck in a repetitive cycle of injury and pain. We try to make changes but the daily grind means we continue to rack up hours of sedentary, static, and repetitive behaviour trapping us in this negative cycle. The pain can force further lifestyle changes meaning less movement and exercise which reinforces the negative cycle and it can seem impossible to break free. Having a dodgy sore back slowly becomes the norm and we just accept it and carry on.

'Your back is stronger than you may think'

Most people worldwide will experience back pain during their lifetime. It can be disabling and worrying but it is very common and rarely dangerous. It all seems pretty grim and depressing right? Well the good news is that for the most part the majority of back pain, even when extremely painful and debilitating, is not due to serious pathology and it can get better.

The fix is rarely instant and usually requires significant effort on your part to make lifestyle changes and prioritise time every single day to look after your back. Of course if you Google hard enough (we’ve all done it) you will find some ‘Guru’ promising an overnight fix in exchange for a significant amount of your hard earned cash but truthfully the magic bullet doesn’t exist.

Self help guide to back pain

Below I have listed some strategies you can implement to make a real difference

Keep Moving

Complete rest is not going to help and generally increases stiffness, pain and fear avoidance behaviours. Of course we must adapt our movement depending on the level of pain and there may be a need to avoid certain postures, positions or movements for a short period of time which is fine. Pilates! Pilates is the equivalent form of exercise for spine health. The focus on flexibility, strength, balance, endurance, and coordination throughout the spine and whole body makes Pilates a form of exercise that promotes a healthy and active lifestyle throughout a lifetime. Check our our express spinal stretch workout.

Establish routine & be proactive not reactive

You need to act consistently and with purpose. Don’t wait until your pain is crippling to decide you need to try some exercises to relieve it. Even if you’re feeling okay find a rhythm that allows structured gentle movement and exercise to be part of your daily routine ideally multiple times a day. Frequent exercise micro breaks to interrupt static postures will reduce the build up of pressure and stiffness and are more desirable than trying to undo hours of sedentary behaviour with a single bout of exercise. Think 2-3 minutes activity every hour rather than a 30 minute blast at the end of the day. Use a timer to remind you.

You should not fear bending or lifting

Bending and lifting are often portrayed as causes of back pain and while an injury can occur if something is picked up in an awkward or unaccustomed way, it’s most likely to just be a sprain or strain.

The important thing is to practice and get your body used to carrying different loads and weights in a way we find comfortable and efficient.

We all run differently, and it’s perfectly normal for us to find our own technique for lifting.

Manage stress

Manage stress. One of the biggest silent assassins to any life goal is high stress levels. You can have all the good intent in the world in changing lifestyle and exercising more but if you are under high levels of stress you can easily sabotage any progress. I realise this is a broad blanket statement and stress management is a big topic beyond the scope of this article but at the very least be aware of how it contributes and can damage your progress, then start to look for solutions.

Get good quality sleep

The importance of sleep in tackling back pain has become increasingly clear in recent years.

This is because it reduces stress and improves your overall feeling of wellbeing, making you less susceptible to the triggers of pain in the first instance and helping you to cope when it does occur.

Aim for 7.5-8 hours a night and try to aim for a regular routine, as far as possible.

It is also very important to know that there is no best position or type of mattress – whatever feels most comfortable for you is best. Although some people find a pillow between your knees helps as it keep your pelvis in a neutral alignment.


Try to maintain good posture when sitting at home, at work or in the car. Staying in awkward positions while working or driving, for example, will affect the soft tissues in your back’s support structures and will increase your pain or your recovery time.

Complementary medicine

Here at The Body Clinic, we offer sports, deep tissue and aromatherapy massage. Massage is a manual technique which uses rhythmic strokes, kneading or tapping actions to move the muscles and soft tissue of the body. Massage can reduce anxiety and stress levels, ease muscular tension and fatigue and improve circulation, which all work to reduce pain levels. We have highly skilled specialist therapists who would be happy to review and assess your back during a face to face consultation. Get in touch via our email:

If it doesn’t clear up, seek help but don’t worry If your back pain does not clear up after 6 – 8 weeks, make an appointment to see your GP or physiotherapist Physiotherapists provide expert advice, guidance and treatment for back pain. This is to help reduce your chances of future episodes, while improving your overall health and wellbeing.

Symptoms to be aware of:

These symptoms are very rare but you should contact a doctor if you experience any of them:

  • Difficulty passing urine or having the sensation to pass water that is not there

  • Numbness/tingling in your genitals or buttocks area

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

  • Impaired sexual function, such as loss of sensation during intercourse

  • Loss of power in your legs

  • Feeling unwell with your back pain, such as a fever or significant sweating that wakes you from sleep

Thank you for reading, if you have any questions you can comment below.

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