Back Pain

by | Aug 17, 2016 | Conditions | 2 comments

Understanding back pain

So called mechanical back pain is the most common reason that between 3-4 million people in the UK every year seek advice and treatment from Registered Osteopaths. Mechanical back pain can vary from an occasional mild ache to constant severe pain.

Remember: Osteopaths are skilled in all areas of diagnosis and use many of the same testing procedures as in conventional medicine. You do not need a referral from your GP to see an Osteopath.

Why is my back stiff? Consider the anatomy….

Discs are structures that act to separate vertebrae, absorb shocks and when functioning properly, permit amazing flexibility and fluid movement of the spine.

Discs rely on full spinal movement to ‘suck- in’ nutrients thus with excessive standing or sitting, particularly at the base of the spine, discs become flattened and brittle.

The normal movement of the spine becomes less and the corresponding muscles and vertebrae above and below the disc ‘sluggish’.

As Osteopaths we can feel this restriction in spinal movement, often well before it causes any symptoms.

Do I need an x-ray?

In many cases of mechanical back pain, if we were to have an x-ray or scan of the back taken, aside from ‘no abnormalities detected’ the other usual diagnosis from the radiographers report almost invariably confirms “wear and tear, consistent with patient age.” Where we need to visualise the spine, we have access to private MRI scanning facilities at the cheapest rates in the UK for our private patients. However unless we suspect any other cause of the back pain, most patients do not require x-ray/MRI referral.

As Osteopaths we often see people who have been struggling with back pain for many months, sometimes years. Except in instances where we have helped someone previously with their pain, we rarely have the opportunity to help backs that are only ‘a bit stiff’. Naturally, most people just put up with it if it doesn’t really limit them day to day. Is this a wise move longer term?

By ignoring back stiffness you may be setting the stage for worse pain in the future.

Think of the spine as a long bicycle chain; one stiff link in the middle of an otherwise well lubricated chain becomes easier and easier to hurt until eventually it can emit pain with every movement the spine makes.

The stiff segment can vary in irritability from mild stiffness, to low grade but constant ache, to unbearably tender, often with sharp stabbing pain interspersed.


  • Osteopaths are trained over 4 or 5 years, particularly in spinal diagnosis and treatment
  • Stiff spinal segments may not show up on x-ray/ MRI.
  • They are easy to identify with a thorough spinal examination, occurring anywhere from the neck down.
  • Most ‘normal’ spines have a random scattering of stiff segments that have no symptoms (asymptomatic).
  • They often result from your posture or you are predisposed from your genetic spinal shape, a sedentary occupation or sometimes following a strain or injury to the back.
  • The significance of the stiff segments is that they can be setting the stage for worse things to come.


How would seeing an Osteopath help my back stiffness/ pain?

Osteopaths are highly skilled in spinal diagnosis. Experienced hands can easily feel stiff spinal segments and Osteopaths are able to free stiff vertebrae by manipulation using just their hands. The manipulation is gentle and applied at a rate which frees the stiffness as quickly as possible without making the area too sore.

The type of pressure used for manipulation always varies depending on the size and age of the patient, the type of injury, level of soreness and the stage at which we get to see the injury.

Back Pain


  1. Back Pain Treatment in Hollywood

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  2. proptech

    Hi there. Many thanks 🙂 Excellent article.


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