Back pain is extremely common in the general population with most back problems start for no obvious reason.  The spine is strong and back problems are rarely due to any serious disease or damage.  Most back problems arise from the muscles in the back rather than the spine itself.

What are the Symptoms?

Back problems can cause a range of symptoms, including:

  • stiffness
  • pain
  • muscle spasms
  • hot, burning, shooting or stabbing pains in your back and sometimes into one or both of your legs

You may also get pins and needles – this can be due to nerve irritation.

What causes back problems?

Although most back problems start for no obvious reason, most commonly back pain can be caused by:

  • staying in one position too long
  • poor posture
  • lifting something or twisting awkwardly
  • a minor injury such as a strained muscle
  • a flare-up of an existing problem
  • can be associated with feeling stressed or run down

Some medical conditions can cause back pain which can require specific treatment, such as:



Keeping active is an essential part of your treatment and recovery and is the single best thing you can do for your health. Exercising can really help your back and reduce the pain you feel.

Being physically active throughout your recovery can:

  • prevent a recurrence of the problem
  • maintain your current levels of fitness – even if you have to modify what you normally do, any activity is better than none
  • keep your other muscles and joints strong and flexible
  • help you aim for a healthy body weight

Try not to:

  • brace or hold yourself still – your back is designed to be mobile
  • sit down or rest for too long – resting in bed doesn’t help back pain, and often makes it harder to get going again.

If you have to sit or rest, try to change positions regularly and find one that reduces any pain in your back or legs.

Read more about keeping active

Stay Positive

It’s easy to start worrying about all the possible things that could be wrong, but research has shown that most back pain settles with time. Keeping as active as possible helps you to cope better and recover more quickly.

Consider Your Posture

  • Pain medication – this can help you move more comfortably, which can help your recovery.
  • Heat or ice packs.
  • Tens machine – this is a small battery operated machine that stimulates the skin to help reduce the level of pain you feel. They can be bought from chemists or online.

Speak to your community pharmacist or other healthcare professional about taking medication. It’s important to take medication regularly.

More about taking painkillers

When to speak to a health professional

If you experience any of the following, phone the 111 service as soon as possible:

  • Difficulty passing or controlling urine
  • Numbness or altered feeling around your back passage or genitals – such as wiping after toilet
  • Pins and needles around your back passage or genitals – such as wiping after toilet

If you experience any of the following, speak to your GP as soon as possible:

  • Generally feeling unwell
  • Back pain that starts when you’re ill with other problems – such as rheumatoid arthritis or cancer
  • Unsteadiness when you walk
For more general information on back pain you may find these sites helpful:
NHS website
Versus Arthritis – Back pain
Back Care Website