How to manage musculoskeletal lower back pain

Learning how to manage musculoskeletal lower back pain is vital for anyone who’s suffered with it as it can be debilitating both physically and mentally. According to a study based on data from the 2010 Global Burden of Disease study, 1 in 10 people worldwide suffer with lower back pain, with Western Europe highest at 15%. Furthermore, work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) account for 41% of work-related ill-health. Even though every organisation has its own set of occupational health and safety guidelines, (and should be giving every employee training in the proper use of equipment), back injuries still frequently occur at work. Lost work days due to these injuries have an enormous impact on organisations, and more needs to be done to address what is often a preventable condition. So what exactly is musculoskeletal lower back pain?

Musculoskeletal Lower Back Pain

Pain can occur in muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones of the lower back, with a wide variety of causes:

  • RSI from daily activities at home or work
  • Trauma such as falls, fractures and sprains
  • Medical conditions such as arthritis or osteoporosis
  • Sleeping on a mattress with too much or too little support
  • Postural issues and prolonged immobilisation – people can be more prone to slipped discs and misalignment
  • Misalignment of the pelvis – this is a common cause which is often overlooked but can cause instability in muscles and ligaments supporting the back

Symptoms vary, with some people complaining of a constant dull ache, while others report burning and tingling. Lower back pain causes fatigue and sleep disturbances.


After being properly diagnosed by a licenced healthcare practitioner to rule out other causes such as appendicitis or aneurysm, treatments can include:

  • Medication – nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain and swelling, opioids for severe pain, paracetamol, etc
  • Application of ice and/or heat
  • Steroid injections into the affected joint
  • Sleep aids
  • Manipulation
  • Physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor
  • Acupuncture or acupressure
  • Exercise
  • Surgery


Once the acute phase has passed, lifestyle adjustments may be necessary. This could be as simple as using a lumbar support cushion while driving. Many people blame their bed or mattress for their back pain because the pain is worse when they wake up in the morning. However, the pain is more likely to be caused be the body being still during the night, causing joints to stiffen and muscles to tighten. The best advice if you’re thinking about buying a new mattress is that comfort is paramount. Steer clear of a mattress that is too soft, or indented, as the body has to provide its own support, resulting in pelvis misalignment. But don’t feel obliged to buy a hard mattress; just find a bed that is comfortable for you.

Ongoing pain will require ongoing treatments. Manipulation, massage or acupuncture can help lessen any mobility impairment which can be common with lower back issues.

Long-term Implications

Chronic back conditions can have a significant impact on someone’s wellbeing, from difficulty rising from a seated position, to dressing, walking and driving. It’s important to seek medical advice as soon as you get the first warning sign of a possible back problem. Early diagnosis and treatment could save you from a lifetime of pain and immobility.

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