Low Back Pain and Radicular Pain

Low back pain is soreness or stiffness in the back, between the bottom of the rib cage and the top of the legs. Most people's low back pain is described as 'non-specific'. That means the pain is unlikely to be caused by an infection, a fracture or a disease like cancer. Some people also get back symptoms radiating down one or both legs (radicular symptoms/sciatica).

Radicular symptoms are caused, when the nerves from the back, are irritated causing pain, numbness or tingling down the leg. This pain, may vary from mild to severe, may be related to or triggered by a particular movement or action or it may be spontaneous. Most people will tend to suffer from back pain at some point in their lives and indeed it may recur.

Most back pain usually improves enough within few days to few weeks, to be able to return to normal activities. For such pain, it is best to continue with normal activities as much as possible, although you may need to return to them in stages, as the back pain steadily recovers. Getting back to work helps your recovery and employers will often arrange lighter duties to get you back sooner. Continuing with normal life as much as you can helps to take your mind off the pain and avoid you getting stiff and weak.

Rest lying down, only when that’s the only way to stop pain building up. Complete or prolonged bed rest is not advised at all as it is associated with delayed recovery. If needed, simple analgesics (pain killers) help people with back pain or radicular pain keep active. Many of these are available over the counter.

If advice is required then the local pharmacist or GP can help.

When to seek advice from your GP:

Seek early advice from your GP if:

  • the low back pain does not respond to the measures described above, gets worse and certainly if it does not improve after six weeks.
  • you are on steroid medication
  • are at risk of osteoporosis or
  • experience unsteadiness when you walk

When to seek urgent help:

You experience:

  • difficulty passing or controlling urine, urinary incontinence
  • numbness/ loss of sensation around your back passage or genitals
  • numbness/loss of sensation, pins and needles, or weakness in both legs

Then you need to seek advice or attend A&E as soon as possible.

Link to other source of advice

For further information, you may also refer to the following sources:

Source: National Back Pain and Radicular Pain Pathway 18 Third Edition 3.0 30th June 2017

There are also useful links in the 'Contact Us' section of this website.