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Back pain

Back pain is the most common condition of the musculoskeletal system and the sixth most frequent reason for visiting a general practitioner. Most back pain improves without medical attention, but if your pain is severe, is not improving within 3 days or persists for more than six weeks, see your healthcare professional.

Low back pain

Back pain commonly occurs in the lower back. Nearly 80% of New Zealanders will experience low back pain at some point in their lives. Although serious back pain can be disabling, less serious back pain affects nearly one in four people at any time.

Symptoms of back pain include soreness, stiffness and tension. The pain may be dull or more intense, particularly when moving or bending. Back pain may be localised to a small area or over a larger region.

Most cases of back pain do not have a serious cause, but are minor injuries of the muscles or ligaments of the back. Back pain may occur immediately, such as a twist or a sports injury, or may develop gradually with poor sitting or standing posture.

Triggers of back pain include:

  • sitting or driving for long periods in a hunched position
  • holding a standing or bending position for extended periods
  • lifting, bending, twisting, pulling or pushing incorrectly
  • sudden stretching or twisting of the back, such as a fall or sport injury
  • overuse of the muscles by repetitive movements or exercise
  • Exercise regularly. Exercise strengthens the muscle support of your spine and helps improve posture. Consult your healthcare professional for advice on exercises to suit you.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight. Together with exercise, a nutritious diet will help avoid excess weight.
  • Focus on your posture. Particularly when driving or sitting, keep your back upright and avoid hunching. Adjust your car seat, desk chair and monitor to allow a comfortable position when seated.
  • Take regular breaks. Take a "movement break" every hour to stretch and loosen joints and muscles after periods of inactivity.
  • Lift carefully. Keep your back straight and bend your knees and keep the object close to your body when lifting, so your legs do the work. Get help for heavy loads.