Back Pain

Table of contents



Your spine is made up of stacked bones called vertebrae and they are arranged in three natural curves: cervical (at your neck), thoracic (the outward curve in the middle), and lumbar (the inward curve of your lower back). Muscles and ligaments help maintain these curves and soft cushions called discs act as shock absorbers between the bones. Nerves run through the holes in the vertebrae and branch out to your body.

Back pain, therefore, is a common condition for many people and can be caused by a wide range of issues including damage to ligaments and muscles, discs, nerves, or vertebrae. Back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide and is one of the most common reasons for people to miss work or go to the doctor.

Back pain can also be caused by nearby organs, so it is important to fully understand the pain you are feeling to help with a more accurate diagnosis. Your kidneys and liver are located nearby and can be confused with back pain.


What causes back pain?

Most back pain comes from the spine and the muscles that support it. Injury, poor posture and straining your back during exercise can cause back pain. It can also be caused by an issue with some of the organs located nearby such as the kidneys or heart disorders.

The bones in the spine can develop arthritis, compress, or pinch nerves. Discs can wear out or lose their shape and can tear or bulge. The muscles that support the back can overtire and weaken leading to injury and pain and ligaments can be over-stretched and cause the bones to lose their support.

Other less common causes of back pain include infection in the spine, other infections, sleep disorders and shingles.


What are the symptoms of back pain?

The main symptoms of back pain is an ache or a pain anywhere in the back which can even go down as low as the buttocks and legs. It is not uncommon for pain in the back to cause issues with other parts of the body, depending on the nerves that are affected.

Many people live with mild back pain and often the pain will go away without any treatment after a period of rest. The most common symptoms of back pain include:

• A dull aching sensation in the lower back
• A stabbing or shooting sensation that can travel down the leg to the foot
• Inability to stand up straight without pain
• A decreased range of motion and reduced flexibility

Symptoms that can indicate more serious issues include:

• Numbness, tingling or weakness on one or both legs
• Back pain after a serious accident or incident
• Unexplained weight loss
• Loss of bowel or bladder control
• A throbbing sensation in the abdomen
• Constant pain that gets worse at night

If you do experience any of these more serious symptoms, you should seek out a healthcare professional who will be able to diagnose the issue.


How can back pain be treated?

Back pain can sometimes be helped with home therapy, such as ice therapy, to reduce inflammation and heat therapy once the swelling has gone. Doing too much activity or doing too little are both harmful to your back. You should try and get back to daily activities as soon as possible but avoid demanding activities that may worsen the pain. Take regular over-the-counter pain relief as required.

Maintaining good posture is also important for relieving pain and improving the strength of your back. A health care professional, such as your GP, a physiotherapist or orthopaedic or sports medicine specialist, may be able to suggest exercises for flexibility, strength, and stability. If you exercise your back daily with the right routine, you will strengthen and improve the flexibility of your spine.

If your back pain does not improve within two weeks of developing, or you have any of the more serious symptoms outlined above, you should seek medical assistance.

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