Back pain is an extremely common problem. The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare report that 70 to 90% of people will have some back pain at some point in their lives. In any one given year this equates to 1 in 6 Australians being affected by significant back pain.

Back pain most commonly refers to the lower back, but could also involve the upper back or neck and less commonly the thoracic spine or “middle back”. There are a large number of causes of back pain and your doctor and specialist will assess your specific case to determine what is causing your problem. Most commonly this is due to “wear and tear”/ degenerative disease.

While there may be other associated symptoms by far the most common symptom that patients have is pain, which can be quite severe. The best thing is to start with simple pain medications such as Panadol and Non-Steroidal Anti-inflammatories (NSAIDS) such as Voltaren / Ibuprofen / Mobic etc. These medications should be started early and taken regularly in the early stages. Your doctor may prescribe stronger medication if you still have “break through pain” despite these measures.

This can be a debilitating and scary situation where you feel the pain may never go away, and that you are not sure how serious the problem is. Pain like this can disrupt sleep, and often this affects you and your partner’s quality of life. Severe and longstanding pain can affect your mood and ability to engage in daily family activities.

The best thing is to act early and get medical advice from your doctor. While back pain is common, most of the time it will go away with some medication in a relatively short period of time. It is often useful to know what is causing the problem and understand the usual pattern of recovery for your specific condition.

The only caveat to this is a very rare condition known as cauda equina syndrome. This is when there is sudden severe pressure on all of the nerve roots in the lower spine. This will result in a loss of control of bladder and bowel function i.e. incontinence of urine and faeces. If this happens this is a medical emergency and you should seek urgent immediate medical attention.