Back injuries are a common problem, with most people suffering from back pain at some point in their life. The causes are relatively numerous and it is often difficult to find the cause and a definitive treatment that works for everyone. The most common causes of back injuries or back pain come from bad posture, lifting incorrectly, or bending awkwardly, and sometimes it happens inexplicably. It is rare for back pain to be caused by a serious condition. When back pain does strike, however, it can be very painful and highly debilitating.


Common causes of back injuries

Bad posture, moving awkwardly, lifting incorrectly or too much, or over-using your back, can all cause problems. Your back is an intricate mechanism made up of bones, muscles, nerves and joints, all of which can be injured and cause a knock-on effect to the parts around it. It is important to consider the effects of your actions and movements could have on your back if you are carrying out any exercise or other strenuous activity.

It is possible to wake up with back pain and have no idea of the cause, perhaps due to sleeping in an awkward position or having done something during the previous day. More serious injuries can occur following car accidents or falls, and people with underlying conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis are at a much higher risk of doing serious damage in these circumstances.

Underlying conditions which can directly result in back pain include sciatica, prolapsed disks, frozen shoulder, or whiplash caused by a car accident.


Recognising a back injury

If you suspect someone has injured their back, first consider whether there are any obvious causes. For instance, if they have fallen or been in an accident, there is a possibility that they could have injured their spine. In this case, it is important not to move the sufferer and to seek medical help as quickly as possible. First aid advice is that you reduce the possibility of them moving their head or neck by providing support. If there has been damage to the spinal chord, the person may have lost control of their limbs, lost bladder or bowel control, or be experiencing numbness or tingling.

Whiplash following an accident will result in headaches, neck pain and tenderness, stiffness, and pain in the shoulders and arms. It is not necessary to call for an ambulance but it is important to make an appointment with a GP as soon as possible.

Slipped disks are another relatively common occurrence and are most prominent amongst older people. Slipped disks can occur when a person lifts a heavy object, bends awkwardly, or during an accident.

It may be difficult to distinguish between a slipped disk and a muscle injury at first, so if you suspect a slipped disk then contact your GP as soon as you are able. Otherwise, muscle-based injuries do not generally require medical attention unless symptoms persist for over six weeks.


Who to speak to

There are a number of places to turn to for advice on diagnosing and dealing with back pain. The NHS Choices website provides information on all types of back pain and when to seek medical advice. They also provide links to the following services who may be able to give you further help and information before you need to speak to a doctor:

Arthritis Research UK – Will give you in-depth information about back pain caused by arthritis – Part of the National Back Pain Association, BackCare is a charity which provides information and advice on all types of back pain for all ages and conditions.

Chartered Society of Physiotherapy – Provides information on how physiotherapy could help with back pain, as well as information on causes and symptoms. – This website gives you information based on your own specified symptoms and areas of pain and how to deal with it.

If you feel that more urgent care is needed, you can contact your GP for an appointment or contact the Urgent Care Centre on 0300 024 2000.


Signs of more serious problems

The NHS Choices website provides information on symptoms that could signify a more serious underlying condition. These include:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • unexplained weight loss
  • a swelling or a deformity in your back
  • it’s constant and doesn’t ease after lying down
  • pain in your chest
  • loss of bladder or bowel control
  • an inability to pass urine
  • numbness around your genitals, buttocks or back passage
  • it’s worse at night

If you or someone you know has any of these symptoms, you must seek medical advice as soon as possible.