Lower back pain is one of the most common conditions we see in a Physiotherapy clinic, in fact lower back pain will affect up to 60-80% of people in their lifetime!
In most cases, back pain is considered ‘non-specific’, meaning that it is not attributable to a specific pathology such as a fracture, tumour or structural deformity. Instead, most cases of lower back pain are mechanical in nature and caused by a combination of changes causing muscular, disc, joint or nerve involvement without one clear pathology.
Most lower back pain cases will improve significantly within 2-6 weeks with appropriate management.
So if I hurt my back, do I need to get a scan?
In short, no, you probably don’t. There is no doubt that X-rays, CT scans and MRI’s are an invaluable part of the health care system but when it comes to lower back pain, they often aren’t required. Whilst they are excellent at helping to exclude serious or sinister issues (EG: a fracture after a motorbike accident), they often will not be able to accurately tell you what is causing the pain.
Recent studies of a “healthy population” have shown that 30% of 30-year-olds had a disc bulge identified via MRI with no symptoms. These stats increased as we aged, 50% of 50-year-olds and almost 100% of 80-year-olds had some irregular findings on MRI study despite presenting with no pain or symptoms.
What this is showing is that even though you may have already had a scan that showed a disc bulge, degeneration or osteo-arthritis, this may not actually be the precise cause of your symptoms.
Unfortunately, when we see these findings we are often frightened or worried that we have something serious going on in our back that may require more serious intervention, but this study shows that it may not actually be the cause of your pain and this is where a thorough Physiotherapy assessment will help to decipher what is causing your symptoms.
Once this has happened, be encouraged! Physiotherapy treatment and the appropriate exercises and life style changes are effective in relieving your back pain.