We all know of someone, who doing something seemingly innocuous, such as getting up out of a chair, or bending to reach something, finds themselves in ‘back hell’ and completely unable to move. When it happens to you, your back spasms up for no apparent reason, and you just can’t move, what do you do?

Most people, thinking something has ‘snapped’, ‘popped’, or ‘broken’, take the fastest route (in agony) to A & E. After waiting for hours, they are generally told ‘take ibuprofen (anti-inflammatory medication) and take it easy for a few days until it feels better!

It’s natural, when you are in so much pain, to think the worst, but in most cases, it has been a series of minor injuries and overuse that has led to this sudden episode of muscle spasm and pain. Even something as simple as a sneeze can trigger back pain. The good news is there are quite a few things you can do to ease the pain and with the right help, get better fast.

The most common cause of sudden low back pain is injury to the muscles and ligaments supporting the back. However, you may wish to seek advice from your GP for reassurance that there is nothing more serious going on.

Seeking the expert advice of a reputable osteopath, such as Bansel Osteopathy, is also a good idea. Getting to the bottom of what is causing your back pain is the first step to recovery. Once you understand what is going on you can take appropriate action to get better.

Here are some simple first aid measures you can try for painful back muscle spasm:

  1. Try not to panic

The most likely cause of your sudden back pain and it seizing up is due to injury to the muscles and/or ligaments supporting your spine. Your muscles are in spasm and will tense up more if you go into panic mode.

  1. Ice

When muscles or ligaments are damaged and your low back muscles go into spasm this is as a result of the body’s acute healing response, known as the ‘inflammatory response.’ Apply an ice pack to the area (be sure to wrap your ice pack in a light tea towel first to prevent ice burns on the skin). Ice therapy will help to reduce local inflammation and relieve pain. A frozen pack of peas will do if you don’t have an ice pack. Apply for 10 minutes and repeat hourly.

  1. NSAIDs

While long term use of NSAID medication isn’t recommended, in the short term, over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication can help. NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen, will help alleviate the acute inflammation, and thus some of the pain. If you don’t want to take medication internally, there are a number of topical NSAID gels that can also provide effective pain relief.

  1. Stay mobile

As much as you think the best thing to do is rest, prolonged inactivity will just make matters worse. While movement initially may feel like it is impossible, with the help of ice and anti-inflammatory medication you should find the pain begins to ease enough to allow you to walk gently around at home. Keeping mobile is really important. Walking, even slowly, will help to keep you mobile and promote the blood flow required for healing.

  1. See an osteopath

Osteopaths specialise in the treatment of musculoskeletal disorders. Osteopathy is a natural therapy that aims to restore function to the body and alleviate the problems that are preventing the body from healing itself. Treatment includes massage, mobilisation and manipulation. Osteopaths also give advice on lifestyle, diet and exercise to promote recovery and well-being.

How can a simple sneeze lead to an episode of such excruciating pain?

In pretty much all cases, it isn’t the sneeze or the movement, such as reaching for something, that is solely responsible for your back injury and excruciating pain. Over time, poor posture or repetitive stress can lead to muscle strain or other soft tissue problems. Your sneeze, or seemingly innocuous movement is merely the last straw.

The rarer causes of sudden low back pain

While in most cases the cause of sudden low back pain is nothing too serious, there are in rarer cases more serious underlying causes and complications, including:

  • Compression fractures to the spine from osteoporosis
  • Cancer of the spine
  • Fracture of the spinal cord
  • Ruptured or herniated disc
  • Sciatica
  • Spinal stenosis
  • Spinal curvatures
  • Leaking aortic aneurysm
  • Kidney infection or kidney stones
  • Problems related to pregnancy
  • Medical conditions of the female reproductive organs, such as endometriosis, ovarian cysts, cancer or fibroids

Always seek medical advice if your back pain doesn’t begin to resolve within a couple of days, and seek urgent medical advice if you have pain and any of the following symptoms: incontinence, trouble urinating, weakness, pain or numbness in legs, fever, weight loss, or severe pain at night waking you from deep sleep. Also, seek advice if your back pain continues for more than 4-6 weeks, or if the pain is becoming progressively worse.

Back pain is a common condition, and though it can be very uncomfortable, it is not usually serious.

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