Back Pain

Back pain is very common, and can be severe and debilitating either in acute episodes, or as chronic pain suffered over a long period of time that is both uncomfortable and fatiguing.

There are many different reasons for back pain, and if prevention and treatment is to be as effective as possible, it is important to have a good understanding of the cause in each individual. As well as those episodes when an obvious injury is the cause, some back pain can seem to occur for no reason, or as the result of a very minor strain. Back pain in general can often be traced to an accident or trauma, even one that occurred many years previously.

Back pain does not always arise immediately after an injury because the body is very good at adapting to injuries and accommodating strains and stresses. However, the disruption to spinal mechanics brought about by injury can cause strain to build up over a period of time and symptoms begin, often insidiously. In treatment it is often necessary to release retained stresses from past injuries and trauma in order to relieve the current back pain, and reduce the chances of it recurring.

Stresses within the body often cause problems in other areas as well as the back. Common associated symptoms are undue fatigue, mood swings or depression, disturbed sleep, headache, period problems, digestive problems, and vulnerability to infections due to a depleted immune system. You may find these symptoms improve during a course of osteopathic treatment.

Common types of trauma & injury

There are certain types of accident that are common contributors to back pain, even if they did not cause pain at the time. The most common ones are described here, but it is by no means a comprehensive list.


Lifting strainsLifting heavy or awkward weights including babies, children and shopping, can cause back strain, especially if not done correctly. If the spine is already under stress from another cause, it may only take lifting a small weight to cause strain, usually at the weakest point in the spine.


Falls or direct injuryThe spine is often jerked or twisted during falls or direct/indirect blows. Parts of the body may become quite impacted or compressed following apparently mild trauma. It is the force vectors in any trauma which are significant and how the body copes with them. Trauma is cumulative in its effect and how the body copes with each event. 'Cause and effect' are key issues for osteopaths in trying to understand how an individuals symptoms evolve over time. 

Sit-down falls for example, such as falling on ice or a slippery surface, are particularly damaging because in addition to the direct impact on the base of the spine, the impact of the head onto the top of the spine causes strain at the top of the neck. Headaches and neck problems are very common after this type of injury. Many of these can cause whiplash injuries which are generally considered to be only associated with accidents in vehicles.

Car accidents, WhiplashIn any car accident, even at relatively low speed, the body is subjected to sudden deceleration forces, and can be thrown around violently in many different directions. Osteopaths are often able to feel the effects of these stresses locked into the body tissues as tensions, after a whiplash accident. The whole body is affected, not just the neck, and unless these strains are treated, they can be present for life.


Common areas of strain after whiplash are:

Neck: Overstrain of the neck muscles and ligaments. This often causes persistent neck pain and headaches, and may lead to arthritis.

Low Back: The sacrum or the tail bone at the base of the spine often becomes wedged down into the pelvis, leaving it rigid and immobile. This is one of the most important effects to release in the treatment of any whiplash, because it can disturb the function of the whole spine.

Rib Cage: Twisting and compression through the rib cage from the seat belt restraint. Common problems in this area resulting from whiplash injuries are shoulder pain, indigestion, heartburn, gall bladder problems, and chest complaints such as pain or asthma.


CLICK HERE to see the research summary from NCOR on the subject of the effectiveness of osteopathy in treating back pain.