Back PainTreatments

Using this guide What's covered

Here you’ll find the answers to many of your questions about back pain and its treatment. Learn about the range of therapies for different types of back pain and when surgery may be appropriate. 

The basics

What causes back pain?

Back pain can have many different causes. Starting with an accurate diagnosis of your pain is important so treatment can be tailored to suit the problem. Muscles, ligaments, vertebrae and spinal discs can all be sources of back pain, and it can vary in duration and severity.

The most common causes of back pain are osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, muscle spasms, disc herniation, scoliosis, spinal stenosis and fractures. Back pain can also be caused by trauma, fibromyalgia, instability, torticollis (wry neck), cervical dystonia and ligament injuries. Disorders in the sacroiliac joint in your pelvis is another common cause of back pain. Infections and tumours are less likely causes of back pain.

Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis are associated with ageing. Both of these conditions can lead to vertebral compression fractures, which may cause pain and deformity resulting in rounding of your upper back. Osteoarthritis can also lead to degenerated discs that are prone to prolapse, tearing and rupture (slipped disc). Osteoporosis can result in fragile bones and crush fractures of the spine. This weakness can also increase your risk of falls.

What helps with back pain?

Back pain often resolves by itself after days, weeks or months. But it can return if you lift something heavy, twist suddenly, sit for too long or have a fall. There are several things you can do to relieve the pain, address the underlying problem and prevent a recurrence. Some you can do by yourself and others include help from health professionals. If your quality of life is being significantly compromised, there are surgical options that help some people, but it’s important to understand their risks and benefits.

The details

Things you can for yourself

Your options for managing back pain include:

  • doing things differently
  • exercise
  • short rest
  • weight loss
  • TENS machine
  • improving your mood
  • mindful meditation
  • hot and cold packs.

Learn more

How health professionals can help

You can get help for your back pain from many different health professionals, including:

  • GP
  • physiotherapist
  • occupational therapist
  • chiropractor or osteopath
  • acupuncturist
  • massage therapist
  • psychological counsellor
  • rheumatologist
  • pain specialist
  • interventional radiologist
  • surgeon.

Learn more

Diagnostic Procedures

If your doctor is concerned about the cause of your back pain, they may refer you for a diagnostic procedure, such as:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • EMG: Electromyography – electrical muscle activity test
  • SSEP: somatosensory evoked potentials – test for sensory nerves pathway to the sensory areas of the brain
  • Discogram: test to determine the specific intervertebral disc causing pain
  • bone scan
  • MRI.

Learn more

Alternative treatments

For back pain that persists, there are several interventions that you can consider ahead of surgery. They include:

  • pain management program
  • neurotomy
  • Botox®
  • spinal cord stimulator
  • intrathecal pain pump
  • spinal traction
  • cold laser
  • prolotherapy.

Learn more

Medications

Learn about the range of over-the-counter and prescription medications that may help relieve your back pain — and which ones to avoid. These include:

  • over-the-counter medications
  • oral prescription medications
  • injectable prescription medications.

Learn more

Back pain surgeries

If you’ve suffered trauma to your back, if the pain has become chronic, or if it’s seriously limiting your activities, your doctor may recommend surgery. Surgery is usually considered as a last resort because it may not have better outcomes than non-invasive treatment. However your doctor may recommend early surgery to reduce the risk of irreversible damage. Your doctor will probably refer you to a spine specialist for advice.

Learn more

Give us feedback

Did you find this guide helpful? Let us know what you liked or what we can do to improve it. We'd love to hear from you.

To provide feedback, email us at wellbeing@hcf.com.au.

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Important information

Information is provided by HCF in good faith for the convenience of members. It is not an endorsement or recommendation of any form of treatment nor is it a substitute for medical advice, and you should rely on the advice of your treating doctors in relation to all matters concerning your health. Every effort has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, however HCF takes no responsibility for any injury, loss, damage or other consequences of the use of this information.