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Lower back pain

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 01.06.2023 | 4 minutes read

Lower back pain is a very common symptom – up to 80% of us will experience it at some time – but fortunately in most cases it’s not serious and typically gets better on its own within a few weeks. In most people, the exact cause of low back pain can’t be found, and so is known as non-specific low back pain although things like a muscle or ligament strain are often the trigger for it happening.

Low back pain can often occur for no obvious reason – you can simply wake up with it or it can happen during the day out of the blue – but it can also occur after lifting a heavy object or moving awkwardly. Because non-specific back pain is sometimes called ‘simple’ back pain, it can be mistaken for very mild pain but although it can be mild it may also be severe too.

In the majority of cases, the lower back pain is typically on one side of your back and can spread down into the cheeks of your bottom or into your thighs. It’s often eased or helped by lying down flat, and made worse by moving, sneezing or coughing.

You can reduce your risk of making your low back pain worse or preventing it flaring up again, by maintaining a healthy weight, or losing weight if you’re overweight, giving up smoking if relevant, taking regular low-impact exercise and keeping your stress levels to a minimum. If your job or hobby involves regular lifting, make sure you learn how to do this properly to protect your back, as this can leave it prone to injury.

What are the concerning causes?

Less commonly, back pain can be attributed to a long-term cause, such as degenerative arthritis, a slipped disc, or a muscle strain or sprain. Thankfully rare, more serious causes include a fracture after an injury, an infection in the bone or disc, compression of the nerves in the lower back, an inflammatory condition or some cancers and we'll talk you through the signs to look out for.

Caidr pharmacists' top tips

If you develop low back pain, it's important to remember that it is very common, usually nothing serious and it usually gets better within a few weeks. However, it can be very painful and difficult to know how to manage until it gets better.

There are things you can do to treat your back pain yourself. Keep active: sitting or lying for long periods can actually make your pain worse and slow your recovery. Simple stretching exercises within your limits of discomfort can also help improve your symptoms. Simple painkiller medications such as paracetamol or ibuprofen may help ease soreness so you can get some exercises done, or relieve it at the worst of times. Applying hot or cold packs can also help relieve symptoms.

Pharmacist recommended products

Back Pain (Drug-free) Kit 3
Effective relief for
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Reduces pain and inflammation
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Trusted by physiotherapists
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Nsaid free
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Topical use
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Replenish electrolytes
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Restore fluid balance in the body and tissues
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Recommended by Healthwords pharmacist
Why this Health Kit

This Health Kit contains a combination of drug-free alternatives to relieve muscular back pain

  • Phynova Joint and Muscle Pain Relief Tablets Pack of 60
  • Biofreeze spray 118ml
  • O.R.S Hydration Tablets (24 Soluble Tablets) - LEMON

Phynova Joint and Muscle Pain Relief Tablets is a traditional herbal medicinal product used to relieve backache, rheumatic or muscular pains, general aches and pains, exclusively based on long-standing use as traditional remedy. Contains Sigesbeckia.

Biofreeze provides long-lasting and fast-acting cold therapy pain, for sore muscles, backaches, sore joints and arthritis. It comes in a 118ml spray bottle that delivers uncompromised relief even when sprayed upside down, ideal for hard-to-reach areas.

Trusted by pharmacists, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, podiatrists and athletic trainers around the world

Key features of Biofreeze spray

  • Long-lasting pain relief.
  • Cold therapy pain relief for sore muscles, backaches, sore joints and arthritis.
  • For the temporary relief of minor aches and painful muscles and joints associated with arthritis pain, backache, strains and sprains.
  • Product is not tested on animals.
  • Made with USP grade ingredients and free of NSAIDs
  • Suitable for adults and children aged 12 years and over.

O.R.S are soluble hydration tablets are a specially formulated combination of glucose, salts and electrolytes and are suitable for people who lose excess fluid, athletes, and those who live in hot climates.

Some research suggests that maintaining hydration and proper fluid balance in the body can also help to reduce back pain. Our muscles around the spine and spinal discs are made to lose water and then rehydrate. If not enough water is available for the discs to absorb what they’ve lost, the discs begin to shrink and can’t function as they are supposed to, leading to pain and stiffness of the back muscles around them.

When should I see my doctor urgently?

Most cases of back pain are nothing to worry about and will improve within a few weeks. However, there are certain circumstances when you should seek medical attention:

  • if your back pain has not started to improve after 6 weeks
  • if your back pain started after a significant fall or accident
  • if you have a history of cancer
  • if you have sciatica affecting both legs, numbness around your bottom or problems with your bowel or bladder control
  • if you are feeling generally unwell with a fever, and no other flu-like symptoms
  • if you’ve been taking steroid tablets for several months
  • if the pain travels up the back or into the chest
  • if you’re aged under 45 and get severe back pain and stiffness first thing in the morning every morning, lasting for 30 minutes or more, and this has persisted for 3 months or more - often movement will make it feel better
  • if you’re losing weight for no obvious reason
  • If you have any of the above features associated with your back pain your doctor may refer you directly for investigations or to a specialist to identify the cause for your back pain.

If you get back pain and you are under 18 or over 50 years old, or your back pain wakes you up from sleep then you should request an urgent appointment with your doctor. 

When should I see my doctor routinely?

If your back pain has no concerning features, then a routine appointment with your doctor is reasonable. Your doctor may refer you to a physiotherapist for more specialist management or give you stronger painkillers than those available without prescription. Only rarely does simple low back pain require referral to a specialist for further investigation and treatment.

Related topics

Read about Slipped disc

Read about Sciatica

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 01.06.2023
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