Acute Back Pain – Physiotherapy Tips

Back pain and back problems are the third leading cause of disease burden in Australia. (Medibank Health Index)  

Nearly one in two Aussies (40.9%) experience back pain, affecting women (43.4%) more than men (38.3%). Back pain affects people of all ages, with lower back pain the most common complaint. Most of the time back pain passes in a few days or weeks. For some people back pain never fully goes away, becoming chronic and more difficult to treat. Back Pain includes a range of conditions involving the complex structure of bones, joints, muscles and nerves that make up the back. It is also strongly influenced by your thoughts and beliefs so it is very important to seek an assessment and accurate advice with individually selected treatment suitable to your unique back pain. 

What causes back pain?

Back pain can be the result of a wide range of events, including heavy lifting, sudden movement, and falls, as well as more subtle accumulated strain. Sometimes you might know exactly what caused it, while other times the origin is a mystery. The most common underlying injury is ligament strain, bulging disks, strained facet joints, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis. Often the pathology is unclear but how you move and what activities aggravate you pain will provide clues for treatment.

It is also worth noting that back pain can be a symptom of other medical conditions. If the pain becomes too intense or lasts longer than six weeks, you should see a doctor or physiotherapist. Xrays and MRIs are rarely needed as they often show minor congenital or extraneous findings not relevant to yo acute problem.

How can I reduce back pain?

At In Touch Physiotherapy I am an expert in analysing your movement patterns and postural habits to see how your daily life is contributing to your pain. My initial aim is to identify what type of back pain you have and how we can work together to improve your pain and movement.

How can I reduce the risk of back pain?

There are the thing you can do or minimise, to guard against hurting your back but heredity factors, your body type, obesity, poor movement patterns and repetitive postures are not the only factors. Research has failed to identify one single factor but we know the following do increase your risk.

  • Posture. Whether standing or sitting, hold yourself upright, balance your weight evenly, and if you work at a desk, set your chair, keyboard and computer to suit your body height and shape,
  • Minimise sitting down for long periods without a break.
  • Driving. Support your lower back, adjust your mirrors to limit twisting or straining, and take regular breaks when driving long distances.
  • Sleeping. Replace unsupportive mattresses, and change your pillow regularly
  • Avoid sitting slumped for hours watching TV before you go to bed
  • Exercise. You can improve the flexibility and strength of your back muscles through exercise. In general, gentle exercises like yoga, Pilates, walking and swimming are great options but different things suit individuals. Find something that you and your body likes.
  • Lifting. Avoid heavy lifting where possible. Make sure your legs do all the work and ask for assistance. Recommended Lifting methods change with recent research but the main principles of thinking before lifting, keeping the weight close to your body and move you feet not twisting your body.
  • Genetics

How can I care for myself if I have back pain?

If you begin to experience back pain:

  • Try to isolate the potential cause so you can avoid repeating any sustained postures, awkward movements or over-vigorous activities that may have contributed
  • Take care not to twist, jolt or strain your back until the pain subsides
  • As you improve you will need to regain range of motion, loosen tight muscles and activate the underused muscle
  • Reteach your body how to move freely and efficiently so you  regain your confidence in your back is vital

Manage your back pain

While back pain has many causes, there are practical things you can do to relieve your own pain and reduce aggravation from intensifying.

  • Stay active Try to get on with your daily life, including work, home and social activities.
  • Avoid staying in bed except for the first 24 hours if your pain is severe.
  • Try exercises and stretches for back pain. Consult your physio about the best exercises for you.
  • (Some backs like moving in an arching direction, others prefer curling, some backs need movement, some need more stabilisation.)
  • If your pain is not improving daily seek advice and treatment from an experienced physiotherapist who uses active treatment and not machines.
  • Pain relief. Try using over-the-counter pain relief like ibuprofen or paracetamol to relieve the pain, but remember to check with your pharmacist or GP if the medicine is safe for you before you take it.

When to see a physiotherapist

Sometimes you may need a doctor or physiotherapist to help treat or manage back pain, particularly if:

  • The pain doesn’t start to improve in a few weeks
  • The pain stops you from doing your day-to-day activities
  • The is getting worse over time
  • You’re worried about the pain or struggling to cope.
  • As spinal pain experts, we have a huge range of advice and tips for self-care as well as gentle direct pain-relieving techniques. Our detailed explanations will empower you to care for yourself and feel confident you can recover

Acute Back Pain Management Tools

Everyone’s pain management is individual and can benefit from a personalised treatment plan overseen by an experienced physiotherapist. However there are a number of simple tools that can help relieve back pain in the comfort of your home.

Foam roller

Basically, foam rollers allow you to massage just about any part of your body for as long as you want (if muscle and joint tightness are your problem). It will not help if you have acute pain on simple movements or activities  Rolling on the posture roll should be uncomfortable, but not unbearable, and when you are done it should feel better.

Spiky ball

The hard rubber spiky ball can be used on the floor or up against the wall, to massage tightly knotted muscles and trigger points. It is particularly helpful for relieving tight glutes and hips by placing it in your buttocks while leaning against the wall and rolling around on sore spots. Massage benefits from gentle stretching afterwards and strengthening the opposite weak muscle. This dynamic approach needs physiotherapy guidance for full benefit.


Theraband – otherwise known as resistance or yoga band are useful for improving how your muscles work and for learning stabilising training.

If you experience back pain, consult an experienced Physiotherapist to discuss your own pain management treatment plan.

Helen Potter FACP 2017

(Article modified from Medibank Private)

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