Lower back pain guide

Siski Green / 28 October 2015

Is that dull ache or a twinge in your lower back something to worry about? Find out all you need to know about lower back pain.

It’s estimated that 2.5 million people in the UK have back pain every day of the year, but by far the most common type is lower back pain that comes and goes, depending on your activities.

What causes lower back pain?

The lower back carries a lot of weight – all of your upper body, your arms and that big brain of yours too. That’s a lot of pressure for a relatively small body area.

Add to that the fact that the pressure is on the spine, a set of relatively small bones (compared to those in the legs, for example) that work together with the surrounding muscles to keep you upright. 

When you suddenly feel lower back pain, it’s likely that if you’ve suffered an injury, you’ll know that’s the cause. However, for women with osteoporosis, it’s possible to experience a spinal fracture, for example, without being aware of it as it develops gradually. 

It may be that you have suffered injury to one of your spinal discs. This can happen over time as a result of wear and tear as you age. They can also slip out of position which causes pain that radiates down one or both legs (sciatica). 

Arthritis can also cause back pain as like all bones, the bones in the back can be affected by the arthritis. 

Find out more about arthritis

What else could be linked to lower back pain?

Lower-back pain is most often the result of lack of muscle strength and/or being overweight but if you are experiencing other symptoms, such as numbness, problems urinating, weakness, or throbbing, you should see your GP.

While rare, lower back pain can sometimes indicate something more serious such as nerve damage or even cancer.

Can I prevent lower back pain?

There are many ways you can work to prevent lower back pain and most are easy to undertake.

The first is to lose weight if you are overweight as this puts excess pressure on your body, leading to aches and pains where muscles can’t cope with the workload.

The next most important and effective way to prevent back pain is to increase your core muscle strength.

Core muscle strength refers to the strength of your core muscles, the abdominal muscles, back muscles, pelvic muscles and chest muscles.

These are particularly important because they support your spine and back in general when you are moving around, lifting things or standing. In fact, they support you whatever movement you are doing.

If one of these muscle groups is weak, you are far more likely to suffer a muscle strain or feel achy after you’ve overworked it. 

Some examples of great core strength exercises include:

  • push-ups (if you can’t do a full push up, do a upper-body one, where your legs remain on the floor)
  • knee-fold tucks (sitting on the floor, knees bent, raise your knees upwards so your feet leave the ground, hold and then lower)
  • oblique crunches (rather than raising your upper body forward, you do it to one side)

Learn some exercises to improve your core strength

What treatments are available for lower back pain?

You can see your GP and ask for painkillers but, while that will help relieve the symptoms, it won’t help you address the cause.

Read our guide to OTC painkillers and prescription painkillers

Exercise, if performed correctly, can help ease the pain but check with your GP first to find out what you should/should not attempt as it depends on the type and severity of your back pain.

You can also try physiotherapy, massage or acupuncture, all of which have shown to have beneficial effects on the symptoms. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.