Back Pain

Back pain is one of the most common health conditions worldwide. If you have back pain, it can stop you from being able to move, work and get a good night’s sleep.

Even the simplest of every day tasks, like getting out of bed, can be painful.

This page provides general information on back pain caused by arthritis in the spine and what can be done to help it.

This information is not meant for people with a specific cause of back pain, such as fracture, ankylosing spondylitis, or injury.

What are the symptoms of back pain?

Back pain may be felt as a sharp pain, ache or spasm in the lower part of the back, or in the hips/buttocks. Your back may feel stiff, making it difficult to turn or bend. 

Sometimes pain can also travel down one or both of your legs. You may also notice tingling (pins and needles) or numbness in your legs and/or feet. 

An example of this type of pain is sciatica, caused by irritation or compression (squeezing) of the sciatic nerve.

What causes back pain?

It can be near impossible to find one particular thing that may be causing back pain. Often, it is due to a combination of different factors such as:

  • Poor posture
  • Muscle weakness (back and abdominal muscles)
  • Muscle strain or spasm
  • Putting extra pressure on the spine (e.g. twisting and bending, or by lifting something awkwardly)
  • Poor fitness or low physical activity levels
  • Being overweight 

In some cases, you may be told your back pain is caused by a certain condition, such as:

  • Spondylosis: this is another name for ‘wear-and-tear’, or degeneration, of the spine
  • ‘Slipped disc’: this is more accurately known as a prolapsed or herniated disc
  • Osteoporosis: thinning of the bones can lead to fractures (breaks) of the bones in the spine

Should I see a doctor if I have lower back pain?

Most people with back pain will not need to see a doctor as most cases will get better within a week or two. However, you should see your doctor as soon as possible if:

  • Your pain does not settle down after a few weeks, or gets worse
  • You have new symptoms such as losing weight, sweats and chills, problems controlling your bowel or bladder, tingling or numbness in your legs
  • You have osteoporosis or a history of cancer
  • You are prone to infection, or are an intravenous drug user. 

You should also speak to your doctor if your back pain is severely affecting your ability to move, exercise or sleep; is affecting your general health or your mood; is making it difficult to manage other health conditions; or is causing you to take strong pain relieving medicines for more than a few days. 

What can I do to manage my back pain?

1. Learn about back pain and play an active role in your treatment.

To find more information on back pain and some of the ways you can help manage it, follow the links at the bottom of this page. If you are thinking about trying a new treatment, its also important to talk to your healthcare team to ensure it is safe and suitable for you . 

2. Stay active and healthy

Your back is designed for movement. You may need to rest or reduce some activities when the pain is bad. But, the sooner you get back to your normal activities, the sooner you are likely to recover from back pain. A physiotherapist or exercise physiologist can give advice about exercises to keep your back moving.
If you are carrying extra weight, losing weight with the help of a dietitian may be of benefit. It can also be helpful to have strategies to help reduce stress or anxiety. 

3. Learn ways to manage pain

There are many things you can try to get the pain under control, including exercise or movement, using medicines to manage pain, heat/cold treatments. 

Read further information on the above topics in our free Information Sheets and our Arthritis Insights articles

My Back Pain provides trustworthy and up-to-date information on low back pain. Developed by expert researchers, health professionals and people with back pain, the aim is to get your back on track!

More information and support

Order your free information booklet Taking Control of Your Back Pain  

Download some of our handy information sheets to learn more about back pain, and ways to manage pain. 

Join one of our online support groups to connect with other Australians living with arthritis. 

Register for our online exercise program, Arthritis Moves!