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  • Writer's pictureSamantha McPherson

NHS - Back pain causes and important info.

This post is derived from the helpful information on the NHS website that gives a brief overview of some key causes of back pain. It is important to know it's not an exhaustive list and doesn't cover the more muscle and movement conditions that physios are excellent at looking after. However, it talks a little about non-specific low back pain (nslbp) and some boney conditions. I have added the information regarding Cauda Equina syndrome which is a medical emergency need medical attention immediately. Very rare but worth knowing about and when to escalate.

The following has been taken directly from as it is a reliable source of information, always.

It's not always possible to identify the cause of back pain but it's rarely anything serious.

Most back pain is what's known as "non-specific" (there's no obvious cause) or "mechanical" (the pain originates from the joints, bones or soft tissues in and around the spine).

This type of back pain:

  • tends to get better or worse depending on your position – for example, it may feel better when sitting or lying down

  • often feels worse when moving – but it's not a good idea to avoid moving your back completely, as this can make things worse

  • can develop suddenly or gradually

  • is sometimes the result of poor posture or lifting something awkwardly, but often happens for no apparent reason

  • may be caused by a minor injury such as sprain (pulled ligament) or strain (pulled muscle)

  • can be associated with feeling stressed or run down

  • will usually start to get better within a few weeks

Medical conditions that cause back pain

Conditions that can cause back pain include:

  • slipped (prolapsed) disc (a disc of cartilage in the spine pressing on a nerve) – this can cause back pain and numbness, tingling and weakness in other parts of the body

  • sciatica (irritation of the nerve that runs from the lower back to the feet) – this can cause pain, numbness, tingling and weakness in the lower back, buttocks, legs and feet

  • ankylosing spondylitis (swelling of the joints in the spine) – this causes pain and stiffness that's usually worse in the morning and improves with movement

  • spondylolisthesis (a bone in the spine slipping out of position) – this can cause lower back pain and stiffness, as well as numbness and a tingling sensation

These conditions are treated differently to non-specific back pain.

Very rarely, back pain can be a sign of a serious problem such as:

  • a broken bone in the spine

  • an infection

  • cauda equina syndrome (where the nerves in the lower back become severely compressed)

  • some types of cancer, such as multiple myeloma (a type of bone marrow cancer)

If you see a GP with back pain, they'll look for signs of these.

Cauda equina syndrome

Cauda equina syndrome is a rare and severe type of spinal stenosis where all of the nerves in the lower back suddenly become severely compressed.

Symptoms include:

  • sciatica on both sides

  • weakness or numbness in both legs that is severe or getting worse

  • numbness around or under your genitals, or around your anus

  • finding it hard to start peeing, can't pee or can't control when you pee – and this isn't normal for you

  • you don't notice when you need to poo or can't control when you poo – and this isn't normal for you

Cauda equina syndrome requires emergency hospital admission and emergency surgery, because the longer it goes untreated, the greater the chance it will lead to permanent paralysis and incontinence.

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