Put Spring back in your Spine!

It is said that 80% of people will experience back pain at some point during their lives. Back and neck pain are common causes for many employees to be absent from work and results in billions being spent each year by medical aids, compensation funds and patients themselves. This pain often goes away within a short time by itself, but if it lasts longer than 3 days or is a result of an injury, rather see a medical practitioner or physiotherapist. Pain that lasts longer than 3 months is described as chronic. Severe, chronic pain can make you depressed, feel useless and tired.



We are taught in schools how to prepare for our future jobs, our elders teach us the basics of life skills, but very few of us know how to take care of our spines and move in the correct way. Therefore, many people end up having back or neck pain, sometimes to the extent where they need surgery to become pain free… again and again.


With initial back pain, try to use ice, heat and over the counter medication. If that does not relieve the pain, contact your general practitioner or physiotherapist. With conservative treatment your doctor will aim to get rid of the pain with muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatories and pain medication. After assessing your pain, the physiotherapist will aim to reduce the pain with different modalities for example taping, electrotherapeutic intervention, soft tissue treatment and vertebral mobilisation or manipulation and in some cases, dry needling. If you do not react appropriately to the treatment, they will send you for X-rays, if not earlier.


Many people experience terrible pain although their x-rays do not show any pathology. Other people’s x-rays show terrible looking conditions, but with no pain present. Certain problems cannot be picked up with this and they might need to have other specialized diagnostic tests done. MRI and CT-scans show conditions like prolapsed discs or narrowing of the spinal canal. Some conditions are not picked up by any of these tests, for example local segmental weakness of stabilising muscle groups. Your pain might be caused by stiffness of specific areas of your spine that may result in too much movement at another level of your spine. In one person, different conditions might cause different kinds of pain with different movements. Many people might have the same pain in the same area, but it might not be due to the same pathology. Therefore, the same kind of treatment may cause similar pain in different people to become worse.
With proper assessment, a physiotherapist who completed a post-graduate course in spinal problems will often be able to identify the cause of your pain. X-rays, MRI and CT-scans may support this diagnosis.


It is crucial that this proper assessment is done for the therapist to be able to give the correct advice, treatment and exercises.


Remember that you may occasionally feel worse after a physio session.  The feedback from you, the patient, is very important for the physio to explain the result of the treatment and to adjust the treatment accordingly in order for you not to stay sore after every session.


The physiotherapist works together with the rest of the medical team to resolve the pain.


Physiotherapy makes use of different modalities to achieve this.  A few of these include: soft tissue and joint mobilisations, dry needling and electrotherapy e.g. ultrasound, laser and TENS.  To prevent the pain from recurring, physiotherapists will prescribe exercises and correct the patient’s ergonomics and movement patterns.  It is important to know that you can exercise yourself into pain, or out of it.  The principle of “no pain, no gain” mostly does not apply to your spine. If you experience pain during or after your gym or home exercise session, a few small adjustments to the exercises may help you to become pain free.


If you apply the principles of ergonomics, movement patterns and correct exercises, you can stay pain free.  If we apply those same principles before surgery, you may prevent pain from ever starting or even prevent surgery.


Stress can aggravate symptoms from any underlying pathology of the spine.  If you go through stressful periods, you might experience that even a small lesion in the spine can wreak havoc on your muscles.  Therefore, seeing a psychologist to help you handle stress in your situation or learning how to relax in spite of circumstances will give you much better results while being treated by the other medical professionals.


If you know that you will benefit from losing a few extra kilograms, also realise that it will benefit your back and that in the process of losing weight, the chances are that you might “lose” your back pain.  See a dietician if you need help in this regard.


Even with the best of medical intervention, whether it be exercises prescribed by a biokineticist, physiotherapy or even surgery, the result can only be as good as the patient-practitioner(s) teamwork.  If underlying pathology is present and the patient stops applying what they are taught, the pain often comes back. With proper treatment, the medical team aims to get – and keep – you pain free.


Knowledge of ergonomics regarding how to sit, stand and even sleep correctly can play a huge part in becoming pain free during night and day.


Picking up your children, washing the dog and understanding how to carry your backpack the correct way can lead to pain or no pain during your leisure activities.


Adapting your computer workstation and many other working habits may lead to more productivity at work and less hours off to seek medical help.


In the event of surgery, your results will be longer lasting if you understand how to take care of your spine.  This way you may prevent a second or third operation.  Some conditions, however, might not be resolved completely and you might need to go for physiotherapy from time to time or will end in surgery, regardless.


For more insight into your spinal pain, you might consider visiting a physiotherapist to spend time on a proper evaluation and teach you how to manage your condition.  This will help you to live as pain free as possible, even without spending a lot of money on different kinds of treatments.


If you empower yourself with knowledge on taking care of your spine, staying pain free does not need to cost you an arm and a leg.

“Live pain free regardless of the problem”.