Is Lower Back Pain Being Over-treated?

Are you suffering an episode of acute lower back pain? I encourage you to stay calm and don't panic. Lower back pain is common and it does heal, most of the time full activity is restored over a number of weeks.

There is a worrying trend to over-treat back pain with unnecessary and aggressive techniques while all that may be needed is rest and gentle manual therapy. An interesting article related to this issue is available on the Harvard Health blog and I encourage anyone who has had or is currently suffering from lower back pain to read.

Harvard Health blog excerpt:

Most routine back pain will improve on its own with conservative therapy in three months, often shorter than that,” says Dr. Bruce E. Landon, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. “Even more importantly, when we do more aggressive things - such as injections, imaging, and surgery - the long-term outcomes don’t change at all. These things have very little impact on what is going on, and they have the potential to make things worse.

Please note that in the US a Physical Therapist is the equivalent of a Chartered Physiotherapist here in Ireland and the UK when discussing the role of conservative therapy.

I feel the article speaks for itself and certainly reflects a trend we as Physiotherapists would recognise as occurring here in Ireland as well. The evidence-based guidelines tells us that early Physiotherapy treatment, possibly in conjunction with appropriate pain medication, is very effective in managing lower back pain.

The benefit in seeing a Physiotherapist sooner rather than later, from a clinical point of view, is that you will get better more quickly, with a lower risk of the back pain recurring at a later date.


Unless there are signs or symptoms indicating more serious pathology, which your Physiotherapist or GP will be able to identify, most lower back pain is ‘benign’ and will settle if you allow it to. Where it all starts to go wrong is when we start to ‘catastrophise’ and then become overly fearful of movement.

At this stage Physiotherapy treatment can be useful because a good therapist will be able to talk you through the process while using gentle ‘hands on’ and exercise based treatment techniques to help ease your pain and get you moving properly again.

Please remember it will be a process which may take a few weeks. There is no magic cure for lower back pain and you would be ill-advised to spend a lot of time and money looking for one.

by Simon.

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