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3 key steps to dealing with back pain that you shouldn’t skip

The internet is full of advice about dealing with back pain. The problem is there are almost as many causes of back pain as there are backs. So, you need to start with these 3 steps to make sure that you take the right approach to dealing with your back pain

1. Get a proper diagnosis your back pain

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Before identifying ways of dealing with your back pain you need to identify its causes. The causes of back pain can be simple and short term, or complex and long term. From a pulled muscle from over-doing it to a more ongoing issue like a spinal condition. Anything from habitual poor posture to an accident we don’t fully recover from to various health conditions can cause back pain.

The causes of back pain are also evolving all the time. In the past couple of years we’ve seen people suffering with back pain because of their change in working patterns to working at home and back pain has even been identified as a symptom of the omicron variant of covid.

Because so many things can cause back pain it stands to reason that not all back pain is going to be helped by the same treatment approaches. Articles often promise lots of tips for dealing with back pain and you can certainly try some of them with low risk and low cost. But if your back pain isn’t easily remedied by the most common tips it’s probably because those tips are better for different types of back pain.

For instance, the treatment approach that might work for you if your back pain is mainly related to your lifestyle – like your job and activity levels – would be quite different than if the underlying cause is related to something biomechanical or to a chronic or short term illness. Unfortunately many people who visit their GP for back pain initially get a non-specific diagnosis or referral to group physiotherapy sessions. This can work for lots of people with short-lived or simple back pain, but what if it doesn’t work for you?

Your start point should be to insist on a CLEAR DIAGNOSIS from a back pain expert so you understand fully 1. What the medical diagnosis is 2. What the underlying causes of your back pain are. It’s important that you get a really clear understanding of this – lots of people with back pain are sent away with medical terms and MRI’s but zero understanding of what, if anything they mean.

Medical professionals are often not great at explaining medical things to non-medical people. So, if your healthcare professional can’t give you this information in a clear and detailed way, ask for another referral or consult someone else – and someone else again if you have to. This step is so important because unless you have a clear diagnosis that you understand your chances of identifying the best – most effective and cost / time effective – approach to back pain treatment is much lower.

Once you have that you can move on to step 2.

2. Do your research into your particular type of back pain

Once you know what particular type of back pain you have with it becomes much easier for you to take the next steps towards dealing with your back pain.

GP smiling woman

The next step is about empowering yourself. When you are in pain and worried about your health you can often feel disempowered, confused and unsure what to do. Educating yourself about your pain, its underlying causes, and what the best approaches to dealing with back pain are key. However, with so much information and misinformation about back pain, how do you know where to go and who to trust?

If you’ve been able to find a good back pain expert to answer your questions at step 1 it may be that they are able to answer all your questions and point you to sources of further information – this is what they should be doing. A good healthcare professional will welcome their patients being informed and asking lots of questions.

If you’re still unsure about the experts you’ve consulted so far, you definitely need to keep looking and asking questions. This could mean consulting another expert and other ways of seeking knowledge about your back pain.

Here are some options to consider when educating yourself about your type of back pain

  1. Consult trusted sources of research online: This could include sites that are designed for people with back pain or, if you have the appetite, more ‘academic’ sites. Google can be great but do take into account the authority and credibility of the sites and articles you’re reading.
  2. Speak to any back pain experts who you have already consulted for their advice or a new one if you need to. If your back pain is fairly mild and time limited there may be plenty of clinicians and practitioners who may be able to help – from massage therapists to your GP. If, however, your back pain is more long-term and causing you a lot of issues, and if your GP and more ‘standard’ approaches haven’t helped, you should really consult experts who have a track record in helping people with your type of back pain. If you have any doubts about the advice given don’t be afraid to keep asking questions or ask for a second opinion.
  3. Ask the internet While we don’t recommend asking your facebook friends for general advice about back pain, if you have identified that you have a particular type of back pain there are lots of support groups and patient groups on the internet for people with particular types of conditions. If someone has had back pain for a while and it’s had a big impact on their life they will likely have had lots of experiences that could be helpful for you to hear about. You can search ‘back pain’ or ‘sciatica’ or any specific back pain condition on facebook or other social sites to find groups like this.

Educating yourself with information can be empowering but sometimes too much information – especially if it’s contradictory – can start to have the opposite effect, when you start to feel overwhelmed. Rather than giving you all the answers to your back pain it helps to look at this self-education process as a way to identify the QUESTIONS you should be asking back pain experts to make sure you’re getting the best advice. So, when you get to the stage where you’re clear about your questions, it’s a good idea to go back to the experts.

3. Choose your healthcare professional

Once you’re more informed about your back pain and you’re clear about your questions, you may want to go back to your GP or other back pain experts you’ve consulted previously. If you haven’t had the most reassuring experience with any of the professionals you’ve consulted to date you may want to look for another healthcare provider. So how should you do this? Here are some suggestions:

Go back to your GP and ask for another or a different referral, armed with the additional knowledge and information you’ve researched. You may not realise that NHS patients have a right to choose the provider for their referrals in many cases. If you don’t go back to your GP about an ongoing back pain problem they may just assume it’s gone away or not causing you much difficulty – so make sure they know. The downside of going to an NHS GP with back pain, especially at the moment, is that waiting lists for referral can be very long. The other downside is that some of the multidisciplinary approaches that have been shown by research to be effective for more complex and chronic back pain may not be available via the NHS. You may therefore also wish to look at other options.

  • Physiotherapists, osteopaths, chiropractors – or all of them! Amongst the regulated health professionals who have expertise in treating back pain are physiotherapists, osteopaths and chiropractors. Regulated health professionals are regulated by law and have to prove they meet various educational and good practice standards. When considering whether to consult a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath you should check they are registered (for physios see the hcpc, for chiropractors it’s the GCC and for osteopaths it’s the GOSC ) and you can also use these sites to find local practitioners in your area. You might want to go back to your local social media sites and network to ask for local recommendations at this stage and check out Google reviews to narrow down a shortlist. Once you have a shortlist you can check out the websites and social media pages of the practitioners you’re considering – in particular look for information about their specific expertise and track record in helping patients with back pain problems like yours. Someone might be a great physio for knee injuries but not so expert in treating disc hernia.
  • If you can’t find all the information you’re seeking on the sites or you have more questions you can often contact clinics like ours with questions and many offer free or low cost initial advice sessions that you can try prior to making an initial appointment.
  • Alternative and holistic practitioners – while many people find alternative therapies like acupuncture or reiki really helpful for back pain, the practitioners who offer these treatments usually aren’t regulated by statute and they’re not qualified to diagnose. That doesn’t mean that you can’t find great holistic practitioners but they may not have the same level of clinical education and regulation as medical and regulated healthcare professionals and it’s difficult for you to know before you try. The evidence tends to show that holistic treatments can be helpful for simple, short-lived back pain, and they can also be beneficial in combination with other treatments – for example acupuncture combined with physiotherapy and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a form of talking therapy). However if your back pain is more complex or chronic, or caused by underlying issues like discal hernias or medical conditions, you may find that these types of therapies are more effective for shorter term pain reduction as opposed to getting to the underlying causes of your condition.

The best of all worlds?

At Core Clinics we specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of back pain of all types. We have a multidisciplinary team which means we have many specialists collaborating together in the same clinic. We have regulated healthcare professionals and holistic therapists working together with expertise in physical, mental and lifestyle aspects of health. We also work closely with local doctors and consultants and can make referrals when patients require them.

The benefits of this multidisciplinary approach are many and include:

  • Access to lots of different expert opinions
  • You don’t have to navigate between different practitioners and wonder which is right for you – we have chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, psychotherapists and more. And whoever you first consult in the team knows which treatment or combination of treatments is likely to have the best results for your particular type of back pain.
  • Evidence and our clinical practice shows that this multidisciplinary approach is the most effective for chronic back pain especially. We’ve helped over 13,000 people in 13 years, the majority of whom came to us with long-term back pain which hadn’t been helped by other treatments.

If you’re looking for ways to deal with your back pain we hope our 3 top tips have been helpful. If you have any comments or questions for us please get in touch and we’ll do everything we can to help.

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