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Lower back pain

By Tanja Rai health@algarveresident.com

Tanja Rai is qualified as a physiotherapist in Germany. She has specialised in orthopaedic rehabilitation and sports injuries and has been living and practicing in the Algarve for over eight years.

Unfortunately most people will recognise the following situation…You bend over to pick up a shopping bag, a plank of wood, or simply your shoe. As you extend your back you suddenly find yourself ‘stuck’, unable to straighten up and a stabbing pain shoots through your lower back. Any movement is difficult, both extension and full flexing and a simple task such as tying your shoelaces has become impossible. So what brought this on?

‘Doing your back in’ can be very painful and is medically graded to judge its severity. The grading ranges from a muscle spasm, where pain is usually restricted to the affected area, to a herniated disc, which usually has more nerve symptoms. Usually the pain is caused in an area where increased mobility is found and a blockage of the vertebrae may lead to a pinched nerve or a muscle spasm. It is your body’s reaction to protect or warn you that something has gone wrong inside. This in turn can cause pain, pins and needles, decreased mobility, tingling and even a burning sensation.

The best immediate relief when your back is refusing to move properly and the pain is too much to take is to lie flat on your back with your legs in a 90 degree bend in your hips and knees. In addition, apply heat to your back, with a hot water bottle or something similar, for 20-30 minutes to let your muscles relax and allow decompression of the spine.  If your symptoms persist for more than five days or if you are suffering from severe nerve symptoms (such as pins and needles or tingling) you need to see a doctor to get a referral to a physiotherapist or you should visit a private physiotherapist.

Your physiotherapist will test the affected area and try to find out where the problem originated. He/she will try to correct and unblock joints and attempt to relax the muscle spasm to improve your mobility and decrease the pain. Often your muscles will seize up to protect the affected area. In order to achieve long term improvement, you will be given exercises to do at home, to improve and increase mobility and therefore correct the underlying cause of the problem. Remember: the location of the pain is not necessarily the location of the problem! Your physiotherapist will also give you advice on how to change your behaviour in sports and daily life activities to avoid reoccurrences. Great improvement can be achieved through small changes in your life, which in turn will hopefully avoid the painful experience of ‘doing your back in.’

Any questions regarding this topic can be emailed to tanja.rai@gmail.com