A shirtless man holding his lower back in pain

Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms and Relief Methods

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If you’ve ever experienced back pain, you are in good company. Back pain, especially lower back pain, is one of the most common causes of body pain.

In fact, back pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide.1 A whopping 92% of people experience pain in their back at some point.2 Another 10% of people describe lower back pain as their most frequently experienced pain.3...

It’s hard to fully appreciate how much your back is involved in nearly any and all movement. Until you have back pain, that is. Then you know! Here we look at the different types of back pain, what causes it, and how you can get some back pain relief.

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Types of back pain

Back pain can be acute or chronic. Acute back pain lasts for three months or less, and heals within an expected amount of time. Chronic back pain, on the other hand, is continual or recurring and lasts for three months or more, beyond a reasonable healing time. (Note: Voltaren can be used to relieve acute pain. It is indicated for the relief of pain associated with recent (acute) localized muscle or joint injuries such as sprains, strains or sports injuries (e.g. sprain of ankle, strain of shoulder or back muscles). This is typically as an adjunct to other measures, such as rest, for the relief of discomfort associated with such injuries.

Back pain is usually classified based on the area of your back that is affected.

Thoracic Pain in your upper back
Lumbar Pain in your lower back
Sacral or coccyx Pain in the lowest vertebrae of your back in the region between your hips (sacral) or pain in your tailbone (coccyx)

Causes of acute back pain include:

1. Strained, pulled, or torn muscles

Pulled muscles are one of the most common causes of back pain4. Whether from lifting a heavy object, heavy exercise, lugging around a heavy shoulder bag, or even just from twisting or turning just so (ouch! We hate when that happens!), many people experience strained back muscles at some point.

Diagram of person straining back

Causes of back pain at work

If your job involves the following tasks and they are not performed properly, this can lead to back pain:

  • Lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling incorrectly
  • Sitting or driving for long periods without taking a break
  • Standing or bending for long periods
A man pulling his son on a sledge in the snow without back pain

Everyday activities that can cause back pain

Back pain can be triggered by everyday activities at home including:

  • Bending awkwardly
  • Lifting, carrying, pushing or pulling incorrectly
  • Slouching in chairs
  • Standing or bending for long periods
  • Twisting
  • Over-stretching
  • Sitting or driving for long periods without taking a break

Causes of back pain

Identifying what causes back pain can be tricky. Not only are there many potential causes (think about how many ways we use our back. This creates endless ways of it being injured) – but back pain often develops from a cause that is not easily tested through imaging or lab tests5. In fact, 85% of back pain has an unknown cause6. Causes of back pain can include injury, joint problems and muscle strains.

Symptoms of back pain

You may experience back pain as a tingling or burning sensation, a dull or sharp pain. Back pain may also be felt as pain or weakness in other parts of the body including your leg, hip or the sole of your foot.

A man and women stretching their backs in the garden

Symptoms and signs of back pain include:

  • Soreness
  • Tingling
  • Inability to stand up straight without pain
  • Decreased range of motion from side to side
  • Inability to flex your back

Simple ways to take care of your back at home

  1. Keep moving, even if you don’t feel like it
  2. Stretch and strengthen your back muscles over time
  3. Keeping a good posture keeps the pressure off your back muscles
  4. Keep a healthy weight – this can reduce the pressure on your back
  5. Try ice and heat
  6. Get enough rest and be careful to not strain your back lifting heavy items
  7. Use Voltaren – Voltaren Emulgel Back & Muscle Pain relieves pain and reduces inflammation

Voltaren Emulgel Back & Muscle Pain brings relief for pain and inflammation in the back & muscle. The gel relieves pain in joints, sprains, strains, as well as minor sports injuries. For more information about how Voltaren can help click here.

When to see a doctor about your back pain

Here’s the good news. In most cases, back pain resolves on its own with home care and rest. However, if your back pain does not improve during this time, see a doctor.

Preventing back pain

So much of preventing requires behavioral changes in how we move about our day-to-day lives. The basics of preventing back pain can be summed up in two words: move well!

Moving well breaks down into four broad principles: lifting well, standing well, sitting well, and sleeping well.

Lift well
Lift as little as possible. But when you must, lift with your legs, not from your back. Do this by bending your knees and squatting to pick an item up from the floor, rather than bend at your waist

Stand well
When you are standing, keep your feet hips width apart to give yourself a solid base for your body weight. Keep your hips square, rather than popping a hip to one side or the other. Remind yourself to roll your shoulders back to get rid of a hunch. You may want to explore the option of a back brace or device to remind you not to hunch.

Sit well
Good posture when you are standing and when you are sitting will help prevent both lower back pain and upper back pain. Sure, it’s tempting to hunch over to see your computer/phone/tablet screen, but avoid it. Raise your screens up to eye level so that you don’t have to compromise your posture in order to see them. Keeping your legs uncrossed can also create a solid base to keep your spine in alignment.

Sleep well
Sleeping on a supportive mattress can make a world of difference when it comes to back pain. If you’re putting in an effort during the day to maintain good posture, there’s no sense in sleeping on a mattress that keeps your spine sagging and bending every which way for the hours you’re asleep. Mattress stores have helpful guides on how to choose a mattress that is best suited to you based on your sleep style. For instance, whether you like to lie on your side, back, or stomach makes a difference. Here, the type of pillow you use can also have an impact on how your back and neck feel in the morning.

Simple, right? But wait. There’s more. In addition to the overarching guide above, there are a number of tips to stave off back pain. But don’t worry. These next back pain prevention tips are fairly straightforward, as well. In order to prevent back pain as well as get some back pain relief:

  1. Maintain a healthy weight
    Extra kilograms put a strain on your posture, which strains your back muscles. Maintaining a healthy weight may ease your pain.
  2. Stay strong
    Strengthen your muscles – especially your core muscles in your abdomen and back – can go far in preventing back pain.
  3. Stay flexible
    Stretching can keep your back muscles loose and warm, so they’re less prone to pulls and injuries. Flexibility in your hips, for instance, can keep your pelvis properly aligned to improve posture and prevent pain. Look into stretches and exercises for back pain that target upper back pain or lower back pain specifically. That way, you can put together a targeted stretching routine, tailored to your needs.
  4. Quit smoking
    In addition to its other negative health effects, smoking is a risk factor for back pain.7 In fact, studies have shown that there is a higher prevalence of back pain among people who have been exposed to cigarette smoke.8 We know that quitting can be hard.9 Consider reaching out to a healthcare professional for help.
  5. Wear proper footwear
    Support starts from having a proper base. The shoes you wear have a big impact on your back. Wear shoes that provide good support. Avoid wearing high heels for any length of time.
  6. Relax
    Your emotional well-being can impact back pain.10 Stress can make your back tense up. So, go ahead. Kick back, put your feet up, and practice some self-care.
A depiction of lower back pain relief from diclofenac and a Voltaren logo

Back pain reliefFor more back pain relief tips, there’s nothing like a bit of supplementary education. Here you can find some additional resources for addressing back pain so you can get back to sitting/walking/moving/dancing through your day with a smile on your face.

Back pain treatment

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Explore Voltaren’s products for pain relief

Voltaren Emulgel Back & Muscle Pain with a No Mess Applicator

Voltaren Back and Muscle Pain 1.16% Diclofenac Gel with No Mess Applicator packshot

Voltaren Emulgel Back & Muscle Pain with a No Mess applicator delivers pain relief with the additional benefit of a new No Mess Applicator. This unique applicator allows easy, clean application of the gel directly on the painful area.

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Voltaren Emulgel Extra Strength

Voltaren Emulgel Extra Strength

Voltaren Emulgel Extra strength allows you to go 12 hours between applications. It penetrates deep to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

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Health, wellness & your pain

Pain is rarely just physical nor is it always solved by taking medicine alone. Voltaren is your ally in helping you take more control of your pain journey, from the way to sleep, to what you eat, mental wellbeing and complementary pain relief therapies.