Navigating back pain: how long is too long?

By Geoffrey Mackay, getback Clinical Director

Back pain affects people of all ages and lifestyles. While many cases of back pain resolve on their own with time and self-care, there comes a point when the duration and frequency of pain warrants more attention. 

A question that often comes up with patients is, ‘How long is too long for back pain?’

Understanding the different categories of back pain and their timelines can help you make informed decisions about seeking professional care.

Acute vs. chronic back pain

Back pain can be categorised as acute or chronic based on its duration.

Acute Back Pain

Acute back pain typically develops suddenly and lasts for a short period, usually a few days to a few weeks. 

It is often triggered by activities, injuries or strains, and generally responds well to gentle movement and over-the-counter pain medication.

Chronic Back Pain

Chronic back pain persists for an extended period, typically lasting beyond six weeks. It can result from underlying conditions such as and weak deep spinal muscles, degenerative discs or spinal stenosis

Chronic back pain can be complex, and its causes can involve a combination of physical, psychological and lifestyle factors.

When to seek professional care

The duration of back pain isn’t the only factor to consider when deciding whether to seek professional care. Other factors can influence the decision:

Severity

If the pain is severe, affects your ability to perform daily activities and is worse at night, seeking professional care is advisable regardless of the duration.

Underlying conditions

If you have a history of spine-related issues or underlying medical conditions such as osteoporosis, you should consult a healthcare professional sooner rather than later.

Red flags

Certain symptoms such as numbness, tingling or weakness in one or both legs, especially below the knee, can signal more serious issues and should prompt professional evaluation.

Lifestyle impact

If your back pain is impacting your emotional well-being, sleep patterns or overall quality of life, it’s a sign that you should consult a healthcare provider.

Duration Guidelines

While there’s no hard and fast rule for when back pain requires professional help, here are some general guidelines to help you decide when it might be time.

Up to 2 Weeks

Acute back pain often resolves within two weeks with rest, gentle movement, and self-care. If your pain doesn’t improve within this time frame, consult a healthcare professional.

3 to 6 weeks

If your back pain persists for three to six weeks, it’s wise to consult a healthcare professional for an assessment and guidance on appropriate treatment.

Beyond 6 weeks

If your back pain persists for six weeks or longer, it’s considered chronic and should prompt a comprehensive evaluation with a healthcare professional.

Advantages of consulting a Physiotherapist

Holistic Approach

Physiotherapists take a holistic approach to treating chronic back pain, considering not only physical aspects of the pain but also the patient’s lifestyle, activities and psychological factors.

Tailored treatment plans

getback™ Physiotherapists assess the underlying causes of a patient’s back pain and create personalised treatment plans for their specific needs and goals.

Manual therapy

getback™ Physiotherapists and Osteopaths may begin a patient’s treatment plan with hands-on techniques such as massage, joint mobilisation and manipulation to alleviate pain, improve mobility and restore function.

Exercise prescription

Strength and movement therapy are often a cornerstone of getback treatment for chronic back pain. Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists design targeted exercise plans to improve strength and range of motion, helping patients to manage and prevent future pain.

Education and prevention

getback™ Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists educate patients about their condition, helping them understand the mechanics of their pain and teaching techniques to prevent recurrences.

Ultimately, every patient’s situation is unique, and consulting with a Physiotherapist ensures that you receive the care and support to effectively manage and alleviate your back pain.

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