The Physio's Guide To Back Pain

Back Pain

About back pain

When it comes to back pain, there are a huge number of causes and methods to help with pain relief but if you don’t know where to look, it’s easy to spend hours searching the internet and still never feel any closer to resolving the issue. That’s where we come in. We’ve put together this useful guide on back pain, to help you quickly and easily identify the problem so you don’t have to suffer in pain.

After all, the quicker you get to the problem, the quicker you can find an effective solution.

If you have identified you have back pain issues and need support with picking a physio, check out our 6 Step Guide to Choosing the Right Physiotherapist blog.

So what causes back pain?

There are many causes of back pain, so it can feel like you’re constantly searching for answers but just can’t find them.

To simplify matters, we’ve broken the causes down into three categories: frequent causes (such as poor posture and lifting incorrectly), less common causes, and rare causes (these will likely need physio or GP attention).

Frequent causes of back pain

Lumbar Pain

There are many causes of back pain, so it can feel like you’re constantly searching for answers but just can’t find them.

To simplify matters, we’ve broken the causes down into three categories: frequent causes (such as poor posture and lifting incorrectly), less common causes, and rare causes (these will likely need physio or GP attention).

Bad Posture

Whether it’s from slouching at your desk, slumping as you walk, sleeping awkwardly or sitting askew while you relax, bad posture can build up over time and put a strain on the wrong muscles.

Incorrect lifting

Whenever you’re lifting heavy objects, whether for work or otherwise, it’s so important to make sure you’re lifting correctly through the knees to ensure you don’t injure yourself. The good news is back pain caused by lifting incorrectly is easily solved through gentle exercise for a few days.


If you’re generally stressed out or run down you may not realise but your muscles will be tense, which can be a cause of back pain. Simple breathing exercises, a long bath, and scheduling in me-time each week can all help to ease stress-induced pain.


The sciatic nerve goes all the way down your back and into your feet. Unfortunately, this means there are many ways it can be strained and many ways you could feel the pain, and sciatica is a common back pain cause. Numbness, tingling and weakness in your back, bum, legs and feet are all symptoms.

Strains & pains

This is most commonly caused by twisting the body awkwardly, or exercising too much without stretching beforehand. The good news is that this is nothing too serious, although it might not feel that way, and will naturally ease over time or with simple relief techniques


Carrying a baby for 9 months can, somewhat unsurprisingly, put a lot of strain on your body but back pain can occur very early on. If you’re unsure, take a pregnancy test to confirm whether you’re pregnant before speaking to a physio or a GP for advice on how to ease the pain.

Less common causes of back pain

Ankylosing spondylitis

Ankylosing spondylitis is is the swelling of the joints in your spine, which typically causes pain and stiffness in the morning but it should calm down as you go about your day.

Slipped Disc

A slipped disc is when the fluid-filled discs which protect your vertebrae from rubbing against each other become misshapen and slightly squashed. This can be particularly painful so we recommend seeing a physio or doctor to help resolve the issue!


Yes, another hard-to-pronounce condition! Spondylolisthesis is when a bone in your spine has slipped out of position. You should watch out for stiffness, numbness and tingling with this one.

Degenerative disc disease

This can happen when the discs between the vertebrae in your spine starts to wear down. It can be really painful, because the discs are there to protect your vertebrae from rubbing together. You’re unlikely to have this one until after the age of around 60.

Impact injuries

Possible causes of injury include traffic accidents, falling, or injury through sport and exercise. If you’ve recently fallen from a height, or you landed on something sensitive, this could be the cause of your lower back pain. Watch out for tingling in the low back and numbness which stretches down your legs. If this occurs we recommend seeing a GP so they can rule out anything too serious.


It’s often thought that scoliosis just occurs in children but adults can suffer from this as well. The condition occurs where the spine curves to one side, causing you to lean to one side or to have uneven shoulders and hips. If you suspect you had scoliosis as a child then you’re also likely to carry it into later life with you.

Spinal stenosis

This probably isn’t the cause of your lower back pain unless you’re over 50 but it can be pretty painful as what you’re feeling is the narrowing of the spinal canal putting pressure on your spinal cord and the roots of your nerves. Watch out for numb or weak legs and difficulty walking.

Kidney stones

The kidneys are one of the only organs in the back of your body, and they serve an important function so it’s worth looking after them. Kidney stones can be a very painful cause of lower back issues so keep an eye out for other signs including: pain on the right side of your stomach or testicles, a fever, nausea and vomiting, blood in your urine, UTIs and pain that comes in waves.

Back pain in women

Endometriosis or uterine fibroids

Among women, lower right back pain could be a sign of endometriosis or uterine fibroids, which are a non-cancerous growth on your uterus. The latter is fairly common and not associated with the development of cancer.

Back pain in men

Testicular torsion

Among men, back pain on the lower right hand side can be caused by a testicle rotating and twisting the spermatic cord, which brings blood into the scrotum. Symptoms to watch out for are severe pain or swelling in the scrotum which comes on quickly, frequent need to urinate or one testicle sitting at an unusual angle to the other.

Rare causes of back pain

These causes are not commonly experienced by people with back pain but if you suspect you have any of these and are worried, you can contact your GP for more information.

As always, we suggest seeing a GP or a physio if your back pain is serious to help get to the heart of the problem and find some resolution!


Occasionally lower right back pain is caused by appendicitis. If this is the case, you’ll probably also experience symptoms including nausea, vomiting, a loss of appetite, diarrhoea or constipation. You need to contact a doctor or visit the hospital if you think you might have appendicitis.

Broken bones

This simply means that a bone has broken in your spine and is causing an understandably large amount of pain in your back. Backs are generally pretty strong and this is unlikely to be your problem, but see a doctor if you think it is.

Cauda equina syndrome

Another very rare cause of back pain is cauda equina syndrome which occurs when the nerves in your lower back become compressed causing a great deal of pain. This usually stems from a herniated disc and can cause bladder and bowel problems, as well as numbness or weakness in the legs.


This one’s very rare, so it’s unlikely this is the cause of your back pain but, as with every part of our bodies, the back can become infected. Symptoms can include numbness and a fever but if you think you may have an infection, talk to your GP and they’ll check the symptoms.


Some types of cancer can cause back pain. It’s a very rare reason for back pain and not one to worry about until you have all the evidence so don't panic yourself with a Google diagnosis here!

Resolutions: Is there anything I can do to easy my back pain?

The short answer is yes. The cause of most back pain is unlikely to be too serious, and you can often treat it at home using the simple solutions below.

As always, we do encourage checking any back pains with your physio or GP  first to ensure you're not missing a bigger problem or treating something you may have misdiagnosed yourself.

Relieving back pain yourself

1. Correct your posture

Make sure you’re sitting, standing and walking right and you might feel an improvement almost overnight. Sound easier said than done? Try posture correcting videos, yoga, pilates or see a physio for a personalised plan. You can also try getting a more ergonomic desk chair and adjusting the seat in your car so it gives you that extra support.

2. Keep Moving

You might want to stay in bed or on the sofa where you’ve just found that one position that doesn’t hurt, but some light exercises can really help with lower back pain relief.

Our top tips are to:

  • Continue with your daily activities as much as possible, rather than lying or sitting down
  • Try gentle exercise like walking or swimming slowly
  • Take a pilates or yoga class. Just make sure you let the instructor know you’re in pain before the class
  • Get up every 30-60 mins and walk around or stretch

3. Hot & Cold Compresses

Hot water bottles are great for many aches and pains, so it’s no surprise they’ll also help with lower back pain relief. But did you know cold compresses can also help? You don’t need to buy anything fancy, an ice pack or even a bag of frozen veggies will do the trick. Just make sure you don’t apply anything directly to your skin. Use a towel or something soft instead.

4. Change your sleep position

Sleeping seems like the most natural thing in the world; something you can’t get wrong. But sadly, many of us are sleeping in the wrong position. The best way to sleep for back pain relief is to lie on your side with a pillow between your legs. It may sound strange but levelling your hips this way will really help your night time posture. You should also check you have the right mattress for the best night’s sleep.

Relieving back pain with some assistance

1. Get A Massage

Regular massages have been shown to help with back pain, as well as all round stress. Trying to reduce anxiety is great for your back but can be difficult to do, and a massage is a great way to force yourself to spend time relaxing. If you prefer, a gentle sports massage can also really help.

2. Medication (Over-the-counter Prescription)

Good old over the counter painkillers are great for lower back pain relief. As always, check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking them and don’t take them for too long. But paracetamol, and especially an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen, can provide you with immediate relief from your lower back pain. If none of the back pain treatments above are working, you need to see a GP. They may recommend another treatment first, before prescribing stronger medication for back pain.

3. See A Physiotherapist

Of course we’d say this. But seriously, physiotherapy not only relieves back pain, it can help you get to the root cause of your back pain and prevent it from recurring. With a great physiotherapist, you’ll be on your way to a pain-free life in no time at all. At West 1 Physiotherapy and Pilates we’ve been successfully treating people just like you at our Harley Street clinic since 2003. Click the button below to contact us today, or visit our website for more info!

If you are stuck with how to find a good physio, we have your back (no pun intended) with our Guide to Choosing the Right Physio.

Our top stretches and exercises for back pain

At West 1 Physio, we understand just how debilitating back pain can be - and how much it can stop you from living your life to the fullest. If you're experiencing back pain, it’s best to get started with some exercises and stretches as soon as you can to prevent the problem from recurring or worsening.

The exercises we've included here are a great way to treat your pain and symptoms. They’re effective, free, simple and they don’t take up too much of your precious time.

If, at any stage, you feel your back pain getting worse, please make sure you stop these exercises and consult a doctor or physio.

Exercises you can do at home


Bridge is a great exercise for your lower back because it keeps your gluteus maximus strong. This supports your lower back and takes some of the strain, and will hopefully have you back on your feet in no time.

To perform a bridge:

  • Lie on your back with bent knees, your feet flat on the floor and hip width apart.
  • Press your feet into the floor evenly, and keep your arms by your sides.
  • Lift your bum off the ground. Make sure your body is in a straight line, from your shoulders to your knees.
  • Squeeze your bottom together and make sure your shoulders stay on the floor. Press evenly into both sides of your body, feet and shoulders. Hold this for a couple of seconds.
  • Slowly and gently lower your bum to the ground – this is a great way to make your muscles work for longer. Then rest for a few seconds.
  • Repeat the exercise around 15 times and then rest for a full minute.
  • Repeat this for three sets, so you’re doing three sets of 15 bridges.

Pelvic Floor

Strengthening your pelvic floor muscles can help you keep a good posture, which should get rid of a lot of aches, pains and niggles around the body. Good posture takes a lot of the stress away from your lower back and means you’re working the right muscles when you’re walking, sitting or standing. Plus, it makes you look good and feel more confident.

To exercise your pelvic floor:

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Keep your arms by your side.
  • Take a deep breath in.
  • As you breathe out, pull your bellybutton in towards your spine. You’ll feel your stomach muscles tighten. Make sure you keep your hips still.
  • Hold this for 5 seconds.
  • Breathe out again and relax for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat the exercise 5 times.


We highly recommend this exercise to strengthen your back muscles. Keeping them strong helps you keep a good posture, and it takes the strain off your spine - making your muscles do all the work.

To do a Superman:

  • Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and your knees bent. Keep your arms by your side.
  • Take a deep breath in.
  • As you breathe out, pull your bellybutton in towards your spine. You’ll feel your stomach muscles tighten. Make sure you keep your hips still.
  • Hold this for 5 seconds.
  • Breathe out again and relax for 5 seconds.
  • Repeat the exercise 5 times.

Stretches you can do at home

Lower Back Rotational Stretch

This gentle stretch will help relax your lower back, relieve tension and should help you see a bit of pain relief straight away. It’ll also build up some stability and a stronger core – perfect for taking some of the pressure off your back.

To perform a lower back rotational stretch:

  • Lie on your back, bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the ground. Spread your arms out wide to the side.
  • Keeping your shoulders on the floor and in the same position, gently roll both of your knees to one side. Make sure you keep your knees bent.
  • Hold this position for 5–10 seconds. You should feel a gentle stretch.
  • Slowly relax back to the starting position on your back.
  • Roll your bent knees over to the opposite side, hold for another 5-10 seconds, and then relax back to the position you started in.
  • Repeat this exercise 3 times on each side.

Knee-to-chest Stretch

Knee to chest stretches help to lengthen out your back. This reduces the tension, which in turn gives you a bit of pain relief.

To perform a knee-to-chest stretch:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor.
  • Gently clasp both hands just below your knee, and pull your knee inwards, towards your chest.
  • Hold this position, with your knee against your chest (or as close as you can get), for 10 seconds. Make sure your spine is pressed flat against the floor.
  • Slowly relax back into the starting position.
  • Repeat 2–3 times on each leg.

Cat Cow Stretch

Cat-cow stretches, also known as Chakravakasana in yoga, are a great way to elongate your back, reduce pain and relieve some of the tension.

How to do a cat-cow stretch:

  • Begin on all fours. Make sure your back is as flat as possible and your wrists are in a straight line with your elbows and your shoulders. Your knees should be directly underneath your hips. Look down and out to keep your spine straight. (If you’re new to this, try to position yourself so you can check your back looks flat in a mirror).
  • Tuck your toes underneath your feet, look up and stick your tailbone up towards the ceiling. Keep your abdominal muscles tight, but drop your stomach down towards the ground.
  • Return your feet to their original position, tip your pelvis forward and round your spine upwards, tucking in your tailbone. Drop your head down and look towards your belly button.
  • Repeat this 5 times.

If you’d like to talk to us about any element of our work, we’re always happy to welcome you in the clinic or speak with you over the phone prior to a visit. Just contact us to get in touch.

Book an Appointment

Our team of experienced physios are here for you, no matter your problem. Book your treatment now.
Book Now

Other blog posts