Back Pain Self-Help: Understanding Low Back Pain

By Kayden Wu (M. Physio) 

Back pain affects countless individuals and can have a profound impact on daily life. However, armed with knowledge and effective self-help strategies, you can navigate your way to relief and regain control. In this article, we will delve into the three main categories of low back pain and provide you with practical tips to find relief. 

Red Flags: When to Seek Medical Attention 

While most cases of back pain are not cause for immediate concern, there are certain “red flags” that indicate the need for medical attention. Pay attention if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

1. History of cancer:  

If you have had cancer in the past and are now experiencing new or persistent back pain, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare professional. 

2. Unexplained weight loss: 

If you are losing weight without an obvious reason and experiencing back pain, it is important to get a medical assessment. 

3. Age over 50:  

Individuals over 50 are more susceptible to certain conditions that can cause back pain. If you fall into this age group and are experiencing back pain, seeking medical advice is essential. 

4. Pain that is not relieved by rest: 

Resting usually helps with general muscle strain or sprain. If your pain persists even with rest, it may indicate an underlying issue. 

5. Pain that is worse at night: 

Back pain intensifying at night or interfering with sleep should be evaluated further. 

6. Recent infection or fever: 

Back pain accompanied by signs of infection or fever requires prompt attention. 

7. Recent trauma or injury: 

If your back pain resulted from recent trauma or injury, seeking medical attention is vital to rule out severe damage. 

8. Progressive weakness or numbness in the legs: 

Weakness or numbness in the legs can indicate nerve involvement and requires medical evaluation. 

9. Bowel or bladder dysfunction: 

Changes in bowel or bladder function alongside back pain may point to a serious condition and should be assessed by a healthcare professional. 

Remember, these red flags indicate potential underlying conditions requiring immediate attention. If you experience any of these symptoms, do not hesitate to consult a healthcare professional. 

Understanding Different Types of Low Back Pain 

To effectively manage and treat low back pain, it is essential to understand its distinct types and underlying causes. The two primary categories are radicular pain and non-specific low back pain. 

Radicular Pain 

Radicular pain results from irritation or compression of a nerve root in the lower back. It often manifests as shooting pain radiating down the leg, accompanied by symptoms such as numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of sensation. Common causes include herniated discs, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal), or degenerative disc disease. If you suspect radicular pain, seek a thorough evaluation from a healthcare professional who can recommend appropriate treatment options. 

Non-Specific Low Back Pain 

Non-specific low back pain accounts for most cases and is not associated with any specific underlying condition or structural abnormality. It typically arises from muscle strain or sprain, joint misalignment, poor posture, weakness, or overuse. Symptoms often include dull or achy pain in the lower back, stiffness, and limited range of motion. 

Scanning Dilemma: To Scan or Not to Scan? 

When dealing with low back pain, scans like X-rays or MRIs are often sought to understand the cause. However, research reveals that anatomical impairments are not always linked to low back pain. Around 90% of cases can be resolved with conservative treatment alone, rendering scans less valuable. Furthermore, the stress and anxiety that can arise from scan results may hinder the rehabilitation process. Carefully consider the decision to undergo a scan and consult with a healthcare professional specializing in musculoskeletal conditions for personalized guidance on its necessity and potential benefits. Prioritizing conservative treatments and avoiding unnecessary scans can lead to better outcomes and a more positive experience in managing low back pain. 

Back Pain Self-Help Strategies 

Dealing with low back pain requires a multifaceted approach. Here are self-help strategies to manage your symptoms and facilitate recovery. Remember, consulting with a healthcare professional for personalized advice is vital. 

1. Be Active: Breaking The Fear Avoidance Cycle 

Do not let fear of pain hold you back from physical activity. Gradually increase your level of activity, starting with gentle movements and gradually challenging yourself. By gradually exposing yourself to activities that initially cause fear or discomfort, you can regain confidence in your ability to engage in physical activity and break free from fear avoidance. Consult a healthcare professional for guidance on suitable activities and exercise modifications. Being active strengthens muscles, improves flexibility, and alleviates low back pain overall. 

2. Exercise for Strength and Flexibility: 

Regular physical activity is crucial for managing non-specific low back pain. Choose exercises that align with your preferences, special needs, and capabilities. Integrating exercises into your daily routine and building upon existing habits enhances self-efficacy and adherence to the exercise regimen. Consult a healthcare professional or a qualified exercise specialist to identify appropriate exercises targeting your specific needs. 

3. Manual Therapy for Additional Relief: 

In combination with other treatments, manual therapy techniques can provide additional relief for non-specific low back pain. Techniques like spinal manipulation, spinal mobilization, and soft tissue techniques are commonly used. Remember, manual therapy should not be used as a standalone treatment. Exercise should remain the primary focus, with manual therapy and psychological therapy serving as supportive measures to enhance overall recovery. 

4. Psychological Therapy: Addressing the Mind-Body Connection: 

Psychological therapy plays a significant role in managing non-specific low back pain, particularly when psychosocial factors hinder recovery or previous treatments have been ineffective. Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) approaches, combined with exercise, help address psychological factors contributing to pain and disability. By addressing the mind-body connection, psychological therapy empowers you to better manage and cope with low back pain. 

5. Pharmacological Intervention: A Prudent Approach: 

Pharmacological interventions, such as oral NSAIDs and weak opioids, should be used judiciously under healthcare professional guidance. NSAIDs should be taken at the lowest effective dose for the shortest duration. Weak opioids may be considered for managing acute low back pain when NSAIDs are contraindicated. Consult a healthcare professional to determine the appropriate pharmacological intervention for your condition. 

6. Comprehensive Treatment Packages: 

Effective management of non-specific low back pain emphasizes exercise as the primary treatment. Including manual therapy and psychological therapy as complementary measures creates a holistic and comprehensive approach to recovery. Collaborate with healthcare professionals to create a treatment plan combining these strategies for optimal pain management. 

7. Prevention: Taking Steps to Safeguard Your Back: 

Prevention is better than cure when it comes to low back pain. Regular exercise, including strength and stretching exercises, can improve back health and decrease the risk of pain. 


Managing low back pain may present challenges, but with the right approach, relief and improved functionality are achievable. Gain an understanding of the diverse types of low back pain, be aware of red flags, and implement self-help strategies tailored to your needs. Remember to consult with a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis and personalized treatment plan. By actively participating in your self-care, you can effectively manage 

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