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Mechanical spinal pain.

December 15, 2020

Low back pain (LBP) affects 60-80% of people throughout their lifetime. It is one of the most common reasons to visit a GP or an allied health professional.

Low back pain is usually categorized in 3 subtypes: acute, sub-acute and chronic low back pain. This subdivision is based on the duration of the back pain. Acute low back pain is an episode of low back pain for less than 6 weeks, sub-acute low back pain between 6 and 12 weeks and chronic low back pain for 12 weeks or more.

A common cause of low back pain is mechanical back pain. Mechanical low back pain is described as defined as pain secondary to overuse of a normal anatomic structure (muscle strain) or pain secondary to injury or deformity of an anatomic structure. Any innervated structure in the lumbar spine can cause symptoms of low back pain including muscles, ligaments, nerve roots, facet joints etc and often, in 90% of low back pain case, the source of pain cannot be attributed to one specific structure.

Low back pain can be caused by:

  • Traumatic injury (very rare)
  • Lumbar sprain or strain caused by repetitive or acute strain of the lumbar muscles, ligaments and joints such as when lifting heavy object
  • Postural strain such as sitting in a chair for prolonged periods of time which leads to repetitive overload on the spinal     structures.

While most people believe that a scan will help to identify the cause of their back pain, research has shown shows are only needed when a serious condition is suspected. Luckily, these serious conditions are rare and account for approximately 1% of all back pain worldwide.

Most people with mechanical back pain experience pain primarily in the lower back. The pain may radiate to the buttocks and thighs. Many people may also experience muscle spasms with mechanical back pain. The symptoms of mechanical back pain are generally more noticeable with bending forward or when lifting heavy objects. Fortunately, the prognosis for low back pain is excellent with over 90% of individuals recovering within 5-6 weeks.

If you are experiencing low back pain, research has shown that a combination of manual therapy which consists of deep tissue massage, joint mobilisations, dry needling and exercise therapy has been found to be effective at reducing pain and improving function. It is important to keep active and return to your usual activities gradually, including work and hobbies as this is important in aiding recovery. While you may feel relief from rest initially, prolonged rest is unhelpful, and is associated with higher levels of pain, greater disability, and longer absence from work.