What is back pain?
Your back is engineered from small bones stacked up in a column (with shock-absorbing discs between them) to protect the nerves in the spinal cord, and with muscles and ligaments binding it all together. Muscular damage can improve quickly (a few days to three weeks), but discs degenerating with age (ie slipped discs), can become chronic; and if a nerve in your lower back gets pinched (usually from the disc pressing on it) you may feel a nasty pain in one side of your buttocks and one of your thighs. This is called sciatica.
What causes it?
Often there is no obvious cause. It could be lifting heavy objects (or light ones badly) or twisting awkwardly. Serious causes (such as spinal stenosis, osteoporosis and cancer) are unusual.
What can I do to prevent it?
Being fat, older, having a sedentary job, or heavy lifting all increase the risk, so losing weight and moving around can help. Common sense suggests low- impact aerobic activities – swimming, brisk walking, or sit-ups to strengthen abdominal muscles. Ensure you sit on a good, firm seat with hips and knees level. When lifting, hold objects close and bend your knees as you lift, keeping your back straight. Sleep on a firm, but not hard, mattress. When you stand, keep your feet apart and relax your knees. Don't wear high heels.
When should I see my doctor?
To rule out serious causes and get advice on painkillers and exercises. You should see your doctor more urgently if you have a temperature, cannot pass urine or are losing the feeling when you pass urine; feel numbness or weakness in the lower part of your body, or pain that is constant and not relieved or made worse by moving.