Back injuries are one of the most common causes of pain, with an estimated 70-90% of people experiencing back pain at least once in their lifetime. There can be many causes of back pain including overuse, sudden movements, heavy lifting, muscle weakness and being less active.

There are multiple different structures inside the back that can cause pain, such as the discs, joints, muscles and nerves. We do know however, that many people can have back pain without there being specific damage to a structure within the back. This is known as ‘Non-Specific back pain’. The positive note, however, is that like many tissues within the body, the back can heal and although the pain may be quite severe at the start, the majority of people will recover and be able to return to all of the activities that they love doing.

Common Back Injuries

  1. Disc injury: The disc is a structure that sits inside your spinal column, and comprises of 2 rings: a tougher, outer layer, and a softer, gel-like structure inside. There are 4 levels of disc injury, with the most mild being a disc bulge, followed by protrusion, extrusion and at the most significant, sequestration. As the disc is close to many nerves, a disc injury may irritate the nerves, causing higher levels of pain. As mentioned, however, discs have an ability to heal and many of these injuries will improve over time, with the correct rehab program.
  2. Muscle strain: Like any other area in the body, the back can be susceptible to muscle strains. This may occur with an overstretching or twisting movement or heavy lifting. Pain may be noted on one side more than the other. Muscle strains can heal, and your physiotherapist will be able to help you to reduce pain, regain mobility and rebuild functional strength.


  1. Sciatica: The sciatic nerve runs from your lower back, down the buttocks and right down the back of the leg to the foot. ‘Sciatica’ refers to the irritation of this nerve which can be quite painful, and cause pain down into the leg, as well as the possibility of pins and needles or numbness. With certain tests, your physiotherapist will be able to determine if this is the cause of your pain and help you with ways to reduce the pain, improve mobility and get back to the activities you love doing.
  2. Overuse injuries: Overuse injuries are common in people who do repetitive actions. In sport, this is commonly seen in rowing and cricket. If left untreated, overuse injuries may become stress fractures overtime. Treatment for overuse injuries of the back may include technique assessment, load modification, pain management and strengthening.

In summary

Regardless of the cause of your back pain, your physiotherapist will be able to assess you and work out a suitable management plan that is specific to your level of injury and your goals. Treatment generally starts with helping to reduce pain and improve mobility and ability to complete functional tasks, followed by a strength program to ensure a full recovery back to activity and sport, and a prevention program in the future.

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