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