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Lower back pain

Lower back pain affects around one third of adults in a given year. Most cases are 'non-specific', meaning the cause of the pain is unknown. Non-specific lower back pain might be caused by damage to the structure of the spine that is so minor it is impossible to detect. Although the damage may be small, the pain may not be. It can be very upsetting and distressing to have persistant pain but not know what is causing it, but there are still a number of ways to treat back pain, even if the cause is unknown.

Treating lower back pain

Your doctor may prescribe you some medication to help with the pain. This may include analgesics (pain-killers) or anti-depressants (like Amitriptyline). Even if you are not depressed, these drugs can still work because they affect the same chemicals in the brain that are involved in pain.

Exercise and staying active are often encouraged for people with lower back pain. It may be tempting to stay at home and rest if you're in pain, but if you don't move around enough you can make the pain worse. You should speak with your doctor to determine how much and what kind of activity is right for you. You may also want to look into 'manual' therapies like massage, chiropracticosteopathy or physiotherapy.

Your doctor might recommend you have a form of psychological therapy like counselling or cognitive behavioural therapy. This can be quite alarming for people with lower back pain, and you may feel as though you're being told that the pain is 'all in your head.' This is not the case. Although psychological factors (like your mood, attitudes or beliefs) may not be causing you pain, they can still affect your levels of pain and your recovery. Talking with a counsellor or cognitive-behavioural therapist will help you address any beliefs or feelings that may make your pain worse. It can also help you cope with any upset or anxiety which your pain may be causing you.

You may find it useful to take a look at our separate page on Pain management.

Other information and advice

The NHS websiteprovides information and advice on all types of back pain.

BackCare is a charity which aims to significantly reduce the burden of back pain by providing information and education to all people and organisations affected by back pain, and to fund scientific research into the causes, prevention and management of back pain. 

Last updated: 07/07/2021