Physiotherapy and Low back pain. Everything to need to know.

Low Back Pain

4 out of every 5 people are expected to experience low back pain at some point in their life. It accounts for over 9% of adult GP visits and is considered one of the leading causes of disability. Some people experience a simple ache that may correct itself over time whilst others will have long standing pain.

Seeking professional advice and getting the right treatment quickly significantly reduces the risk of low back pain lingering. It can also speed up recovery time and reduce the impact to your day to day life.

Physiotherapists are generally considered to be the experts on low back pain. By completing a robust assessment, they can often pinpoint what is contributing to the condition and immediately start treatment. Physiotherapists are also trained to spot more serious conditions that may present as low back pain and then refer on to the GP or specialist.

Physiotherapists are available on the NHS but require a referral from your GP in most instances. Waiting lists can be several weeks long and treatment options are limited due to resource constraints. Private physiotherapy services can be accessed quickly and, if self funding, without the need for a GP referral. Many private physiotherapy providers will also accept private health insurance but a referral may be required.

Types of lower back pain

There are a number of reasons why low back pain occurs. A number of body structures can be responsible for low back pain but it is important to remember that it is often more than one factor contributing, including lifestyle factors.

Some of the more well known types of low back pain include:

  •  Irritation of nerve roots (femoral or sciatic nerves) – most of us have heard about the dreaded sciatica!
  • Increased tone/spasm in the muscles of the lower back
  • Bone deformity (curvature of the spine or degenerative changes)
  • Ligament or muscle strain/sprain – this is particularly common during pregnancy
  • Intervertebral disc prolapse or degeneration

Lower back pain is one of the most common complaints treated in clinic. All of the above problems can affect each individual differently and in some cases can cause severe pain and disability while in others they produce no symptoms at all.

Physiotherapy Treatment for Low Back Pain

Massage and Bodywork

Massage helps to increase blood flow to the painful areas and releases tension/trigger points in muscles. This is turn can help reduce pain and improve impaired movement. It can be a very effective treatment for many types of back pain when used as part of a structure treatment plan.

Joint mobilisations

Joint mobilisations are often used to release joint stiffness, improve movement and reduce pain. Mobilisation of a joint is commonly used for patients with degenerative change, disc pathologies and Hypomobility (general joint stiffness) and can be an effective treatment modality.


Acupuncture is used for both pain management and reducing tension in muscles. It is an adjunct to other physiotherapy treatment. Research suggests acupuncture has particularly good outcomes when used in the treatment of chronic lower back pain.

Ergonomic Advice

Lifestyle factors can also be a big contributor to low back pain. Spending 8+ hours sitting at work with a poorly set up workstation is not going to do your back any favours and is often overlooked. Your physiotherapist will be able to offer you advice and education on how to achieve an optimal posture, workstation set up, manual handling techniques and adapting day to day tasks to reduce your pain response.

Exercise Prescription

There is strong evidence that both general and specific exercise can have a positive impact on when treating low back pain. Your physiotherapist will be able to prescribe a structure home exercise program that will ensure you continue to make improvements outside of the clinic without aggravating your back pain further. Exercises programs may consist strengthening, stretching and general fitness based exercises.

Go to Your GP if:

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms alongside your low back pain then we recommend you seek further advice from you GP immediately.

  • Difficulty controlling or passing urine
  • Lose control of your bowels
  • Numbness around your back passage or your genitals
  • Weakness in your legs or you are unsteady on your feet
  • Have very severe ongoing pain that gets worse over several weeks.