Many people in New Zealand experience back pain. In fact, over 85% of people suffer from back pain at some time in their life. It’s relatively common for people in their 40’s to have a painful back.

Back pain can have many causes but most back pain is not serious and will get better over time.

Common causes of back pain

  • Work injuries
  • Sporting injuries
  • Degenerative spine conditions
  • Traumatic injuries
  • Age-related changes

But often there’s no obvious cause. You may just wake with a sore back, or feel pain after a previously normal movement.

Taking part in certain activities may increase the risk of back pain. Activities that include:

  • Heavy manual labour
  • Performing tasks that are beyond your physical capabilities
  • Tasks that require standing for prolonged periods
  • Maintaining awkward lifting squatting or kneeling postures.

What’s going on when I get back pain?

Upper or lower back pain may be caused by problems with ligaments, muscles, nerves or problems with the bones in the spine called vertebrae or the pads between vertebrae called spinal discs.

Download our guide to Backpain Relief, and learn more about the different types of pain.

Thankfully, most types of back pain can be managed.

The first step in relieving your back pain is to understand the mechanics of your back.

Your spine extends from the base of your skull to the top of your pelvis. The spinal cord is a rope of nerves that are protected by the bones of your back, called vertebrae. Between each vertebra are discs that act as shock absorbers, allowing the spine to stay flexible while supporting your body weight and the weight of anything you lift.

Branches of the spinal cord exit between the vertebrae and travel throughout the body. The nerves that allow your spine to feel pain are the same nerves that cause your limbs to feel pain.

When pain signals originating from a disc or back joint are felt down your leg or arm, we call it referred pain. This effect is common and typical of most mechanical back problems. This type of pain is different from that of a pinched nerve, which can also travel into the arms or legs but is far less common.

Most types of mechanical back pain are caused by four types of pain

Disc pain

Pain is worse in the back and may spread down the legs or buttocks. It may be made worse by sitting or bending forward and eased by walking or standing.

Facet joint pain

Pain is worse in the back and may spread down the legs or buttocks. It’s made worse by bending backwards and eased by bending forward or sitting.

Pinched nerves

Pain is worse in the legs, but may also be present in the back. Pinched nerve pain is usually made worse by bending and sitting, and eased by lying face down or on your back with a pillow under the knees.

Spinal stenosis

Pain is worse in the legs and feels heavy or aching. Pain is made worse by activity and better by changing position.

How can I relieve pain my back pain at home?

For back pain that’s just happened, treatment with an ice pack may help to reduce inflammation and pain. Use an ice pack or freezer block wrapped in a towel and put it at the source of the pain.

Anti-inflammatory pain medication may also help. Check with your pharmacist or doctor before taking medications.

Bed rest won’t necessarily help your back pain, whether it’s lower or upper pain. In fact, it may make your symptoms worse. It’s best to keep moving, gently and without over-exerting yourself.

Try to keep active. Gentle exercise and activity will help your recovery. Use some of the tips and exercises in our Guide to Backpain Relief

For most people, your back pain will start to get better on its own, and you’ll be back to normal within a few weeks.

Experiencing lower back pain? This blog may give you some more information. Managing lower back pain

How do I know if my back pain is serious?

If your back pain comes with any of these other conditions, then seek medical advice as soon as possible.

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control
  • Numbness or tingling in your legs
  • After a fall or other traumatic event
  • Fever or sweating
  • Constant severe pain
  • Abdominal (tummy) pain
  • Unexplained weight loss

When should I get help for my back pain?

If you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of serious back pain, then seek medical advice.

If your back pain isn’t getting better after 1-2 weeks, one of the SpineCare team at TBI Health may be able to help. At TBI Health we’re the back and spine care experts. We’ve helped hundreds of people get free from pain and move freely again.

Our SpineCare service can help you by

  • Identifying and explaining the nature of your pain
  • Developing a customised rehabilitation programme that works best for you, and 
  • Giving you the ability to manage your pain so you can remain active.

Book into your nearest clinic to have an assessment with one of our SpineCare specialists

We have a dedicated and experienced clinical team of Medical Specialists, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Exercise Therapists and Clinical Psychologists, working together to ensure you get the help you need when you need it.