Acute low back pain (LBP) is a sudden, often sharp pain in the low back which often results in the inability to move. Low back pain is the largest single reported cause of absence from work and the leading cause of disability. Acute back pain is one of the most common reasons why people seek chiropractic treatment.

Acute back pain is common, about 8 out of 10 people will at some point in their life get pain in their back and it is common in any age. We even see it in teenagers and children especially with the extra school books and heavy bags they have to carry to and from school.

"Rehabilitation is extremely important"

Acute back pain and the stiffness associated with it can come from any part of the pain sensitive structures in the back. These include the joints, muscles, discs and ligaments. You may experience pain only in the low back or it can radiate from the back down towards the buttock, hips and legs. What happens in the spine is there is a reduction in the movement between two or more spinal segments, muscle spasm develops and occasionally there can be a disc injury. Often the muscles around the spine, buttocks and hips are tight. If this occurs in your mid back (thoracic region) you can even experience difficulty breathing.

Most acute back pain is not caused by anything specific but often occurs from a build up of multiple stresses on the spine from our daily activities, then suddenly we just bend down to tie our shoelaces and we get sudden, severe back pain. It is often associated with lifting or bending down.

In the beginning of acute back pain often pain is felt in all directions of movement. As the pain subsides it is often felt on specific movements such as bending forward or getting up from a sitting position. It is best to find a position of comfort; this is often walking on a flat surface or lying down on your back with your ankles resting on a chair.

It is important that the reason behind the problem gets treated otherwise the acute back pain can return quickly and the back will not return to its original function. A chiropractor can both reduce the pain and allow for the body to function as normal. When one does suffer form acute back pain it is important that one tries to keep moving. Movement is important for the healing process and can help prevent associated muscle tightness and stiffness developing. Bed rest and inactivity worsen the condition further.

Rehabilitation is extremely important once your back has been corrected. A specific exercise program including core strengthening and stabilisation is vital to return to normal function and prevent the likelihood of recurrence.


Your acute back pain can also be caused by other conditions and if your chiropractor thinks they cannot help you they will refer you onto the appropriate person so further investigations can be carried out.
A comprehensive clinical practice guideline from the American College of Physicians titled Diagnosis and Treatment of Low Back Pain and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine October 2007
marks a historic point when North American medical and chiropractic guidelines with respect to back pain are fundamentally the same. Spinal manipulation has been found to be superior to other types of treatment such as drugs, exercise and advice demonstrating the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment.

Some interesting facts of research:

  • For acute low back pain (an episode of pain for less than four weeks) spinal manipulation (which chiropractors are highly specialised in) is the only non-drug treatment with proven effectiveness and recommended.
  • There is good evidence that spinal manipulation and spinal mobilisation (both of which chiropractors are experts in) is superior to usual medical care for patient improvement.
  • There are now more randomised controlled trials examining spinal manipulative therapy (SMT) for low back pain than any other intervention.
  • SMT and mobilisation are superior to physical therapy and to home exercises in the long-term.
  • Chiropractic management is a non-invasive, cost effective treatment approach for patients with chronic low back pain.
  • One of the benefits of spinal manipulation (administered by providers with appropriate training) is its safety.

It is important to emphasise that these findings are relating to patients with chronic back pain as well as acute back pain. Historically many medical advisors to workers compensation authorities have acknowledged that spinal manipulation may be of value for patients with acute pain but argued that it is of little value to those with chronic pain. Now, today there is clear evidence that spinal manipulative therapy and mobilisation is superior and more effective to other commonly used medical approaches such as exercise and multidisciplinary approaches.

"leaves you unable to walk, drive, sit or even stand comfortably"

Chiropractic treatment can greatly reduce the amount of time you spend suffering with your back pain. Recurrent episodes of acute low back pain could result in ‘chronic’ pain. It is often very distressing to have acute back pain that leaves you unable to walk, drive, sit or even stand comfortably. Often learning what is causing your pain and how it can be treated can give you some relief in itself so consult a chiropractor now, don’t suffer longer than is necessary.

Pain of any kind, at any age, is a sign that something isn’t right. Pain is the way your body signals that a limit has been reached or a problem has developed. The body can compensate for problems until is reaches a threshold. Once it reaches this then we experience pain and sometimes other symptoms. This explains why problems often go unnoticed for a period of time then suddenly we bend to tie our shoes and we can not get back up again. Since we can adapt, minor aches and pains often become insignificant to us and while they may disappear if the underlying problem remains untreated the problem can slowly worsen until it becomes more difficult to resolve.

Firstly chiropractic does not involve the dispensing of drugs. We rely on natural methods of healing. Muscle relaxants and even the most common over the counter pain medications fail on 2 counts. First although they may be convenient, they do not address the underlying cause of your problem. Secondly, side effects such as stomach upset, addiction, kidney failure and liver damage can result. When correctly applied ice can have an analgesic and anti-inflammatory effect without the side effects associated with pain medications.

  1. 2008. A Comparison Between Chiropractic Management and Pain Clinic Management for Chronic Low-Back Pain in a National Health Service Outpatient Clinic. Journal Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Jun 14 (5): 465-473.
  2. Chou R, Qaseem A et al. (2007) Diagnosis and Treatment of Low-Back Pain: A Joint Clinical Practice Guideline from the American College of Physicians and the American Pain Society. Annals Internal Medicine 147 (7): 478-491.
  3. Waddell G (1998) The Back Pain Revolution, Churchill Livingstone, Edinburgh.
  4. Chou R and Huffman LH (2007). Nonpharmacologic Therapies for Acute and Chronic Low-Back Pain: A Review of the Evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guidelines. Annals Internal Medicine 147 (7): 492-504.
  5. Chou R and Huffman LH (2007). Medications for Acute and Chronic Low-Back Pain: A Review of the Evidence for an American Pain Society/American College of Physicians Clinical Practice Guidelines. Annals Internal Medicine 147 (7): 504-514.
  6. 2005. Cost-effectiveness of Medical and Chiropractic Care for Acute and Chronic Low Back Pain. Journal Manipulative and Physiological Therapies. Oct 28 (8): 555-563.
  7. United Kingdom Back Pain Exercise and Manipulation (UK BEAM) Randomised Trial: Cost-effectiveness of Physical Treatments for Back Pain in Primary Care. British Medical Journal Online First, November 19, 2004: 1-6.
  8. 2004. Cost Effective of Physical Treatments for Back Pain in Primary Care. British Medical Journal, Dec (11): 329 (7479).
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