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Back Pain


Back pain is a general term referring to any complaint affecting the spine or the muscles and tissue connected to it. Back pain is common and one of the main reasons for absence from work.
Although painful, it is not normally serious. In most cases the pain lasts from a few days to a few weeks. 90% of people who have back pain will recover within 6 weeks.

Common forms of back pain include lumbago, sciatica and slipped discs, but back pain can also affect the neck, arms and even the legs. Lumbago affects the lower back and is the most common form of back pain. Sciatica is a pain in the lower back that can be felt down the legs and is caused by nerves that have been twisted or pushed out of place. Problems affecting the spinal column also account for many cases of back pain, especially slipped discs. These occur when the cartilage that separates and cushions the bones in the spine (the vertebrae) pops out of place.


There are many obvious causes of back pain such as lifting heavy loads incorrectly, bending the spine too much, twisting awkwardly, having a fall or being overweight. Even standing up or sitting down for too long can account for many cases of back pain. Incidences of back pain are increasing and modern life is the main culprit. Cars, public transport, deskbound jobs and our more sedentary lifestyle have changed the way we use our bodies. The result is that our muscles and spines are weaker than they used to be and the risk of back injury has increased.


Pain in the back, particularly in the lower back or the neck that gets worse with movement is the first indicator of back pain. Back spasms – sudden, uncontrollable muscular contractions – may also occur and can be very painful. Stiffness in the back muscles after long periods of inactivity, such as first-thing in the morning, also indicates the onset of back pain.


The majority of cases will not require treatment and will clear up within a few days or so; staying active, despite the pain, will help the pain go away sooner. Heat rubs will provide some pain relief when rubbed onto the affected area. Pain killers taken by mouth or rubbed onto the skin, such as ibuprofen, can also be effective in relieving pain. Physiotherapy may be needed for severe back pain and will involve stretching exercises that have been designed to strengthen the spine and back muscles naturally.

When to consult your pharmacist

Visit your pharmacist if you develop back pain. Your pharmacist will ask you questions about your age, the location of the pain, whether the pain developed suddenly or slowly and whether the pain gets better or worse when you move or rest, to try to establish the cause of the back pain. If the pharmacist suspects that your back pain is a symptom of a more serious complaint, or if you have been experiencing back pain for a long time, you will be advised to see your doctor.

If it is back pain, there are many products that a pharmacist can recommend that can be bought without a prescription that will bring relief. Sprays, rubs, liniments and gels containing cooling agents, products to ease pain and inflammation such aspirin derivatives, ibuprofen and piroxicam, plasters containing belladonna to relieve spasm, can all be applied to the affected area to relieve the pain. Rubbing the area will itself help bring pain relief.

If you are unable to apply or prefer not to use these preparations, pain killers in the form of tablets or capsules containing paracetamol, aspirin or ibuprofen are also available over the counter. For the short term treatment of acute, moderate pain which is not relieved by paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin alone, the pharmacist may recommend codeine or dihydrocodeine. However, it is important that these two medicines are taken for no more than 3 days as they may cause addiction.

It is important that you tell the pharmacist if you are taking any other medicines as some of these products will interact with them and so should not be used together.

Your O’Donnell’s pharmacist will also ask if you have any other illnesses or if you could be pregnant and will be able to recommend a product suitable for you.

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