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Science
CHECK UP
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PROGRAMME INFO
Thursday 15:00-15:30
Check Up is your chance to talk to doctors about the health issues that most concern you and your family. Each week Barbara Myers is joined by a medical expert to take your calls and emails on a particular topic and give you the most up to date advice. No appointment necessary.
Call 03700 100 444
Contact Check Up
LISTEN AGAINListen 30 min
Listen to 17 July
PRESENTER
BARBARA MYERS
Barbara Myers
PROGRAMME DETAILS
Thursday 17 July 2008
A demonstration of a physiotherapy technique, 1949
A 1940s physiotherapy technique

Full programme transcript >>

Back pain

Back pain is the biggest single medical cause of time off work, accounting for nearly half of all sickness-related absence from the workplace – that’s just over 50 million lost working days every year.

Up to half of us will suffer from at least one episode of lower back pain every year, and around 5 million people will end up at their GPs.

In this week's Check Up, Barbara Myers and her guest, GP Dr Stephen Longworth, will be answering your questions about back pain.

Lower Back Pain

The most common type of back pain is found in the lower back. 

In most cases the pain should go of its own accord in a week or so.  However, in a minority of cases, it persists for several months or longer.

Typically, the pain is in one area of the lower back, but sometimes it spreads to the buttocks or thighs.

Trapped nerve pain 

A trapped nerve means that a nerve coming from the spinal cord is irritated or pressed on.

Pain may be felt down a leg to the calf or foot, with the pain in the leg or foot often being worse than in the back.

A common example is sciatica, where a main nerve to the leg is irritated or pressed on.

Nerve root pain can range in severity from mild to very bad. The irritation or pressure on the nerve may also cause pins and needles, numbness or weakness in part of a buttock, leg or foot.

A trapped nerve is the cause of back pain in less than one out of 20 cases.

Slipped disc

A slipped disc is another well known cause of back pain.

The disc does not actually 'slip' - part of the inner softer part of the disc bulges out or prolapses through a weakness in the outer harder part of the disc. The prolapsed part of the disc can then press on a nerve nearby, causing pain.

Back pain can sometimes be caused by arthritis, or very rarely by a tumour or infection affecting the spine.

Treatment

In most cases of back pain, doctors advise you to continue with normal activities as far as possible. 

You are more likely to recover more quickly and are less likely to develop chronic back pain by keeping active.

If you need painkillers, it is best to take them regularly rather than when you feel pain acutely.

Paracetamol is often sufficient but some people choose anti-inflammatory painkillers like ibuprofen. Other types such as diclofenac or naproxen need a prescription.

Some people visit a physiotherapist, chiropractor, or osteopath for treatment for back pain. These physical treatments provide some short-term comfort and hasten recovery in some cases.

If you have any questions about the causes or treatments of back pain, please get in touch.

Contact the programme:

Please contact the programme with your questions or comments on 03700 100 444 on the day of broadcast or e-mail using the Contact Check Up link.
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