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Acute Vs. Chronic Back Pain

Acute Vs. Chronic Back Pain


You wake up to the sound of your alarm and swing your legs over the side of your bed, ready to start your day. Suddenly, something stops you in your tracks before your feet even hit the floor— back pain. Back pain has woken up with you, and it plans to stick around for the day despite not being invited in any way whatsoever. 

Whether your back pain is in your upper back, middle back, or low back, it can impact you physically and mentally. It can also come with a lot of frustration, regardless of if you suffer from back pain regularly or if it’s a new development. In any case, back pain can and should be addressed so you can get back to living your life the way you want. 

This article explores the differences between acute and chronic back pain, including the treatment options for each. For personalised advice, contact our team at NDPE today.


What Is Back Pain? 

Back pain refers to pain anywhere between the neck (cervical spine) and tailbone (coccyx). The pain itself can feel like an ache or an intense pain, or can come in the form of spasms, stiffness, tingling, and even numbness. 

Back pain is relatively common, affecting 4 in 5 Australians at some point throughout their lives. While people of any age can experience back pain, it’s most commonly reported in people aged 25 years and older. Back pain can either be acute or chronic. 

Acute Back Pain 

What Is Acute Back Pain? 

Acute back pain is pain anywhere in your back that lasts for a short amount of time. This generally means it lasts less than three to six months. Sometimes back pain can be as short as a minute or two. Most cases of back pain are acute and typically resolve in a few days to a few weeks. 

What Can Cause Acute Back Pain? 

Acute back pain can be caused by a number of different factors. Most of the time, the cause of acute back pain can’t be pinpointed and isn’t caused by any particular condition. In cases like these, acute back pain is often referred to as ‘non-specific back pain’. 

Causes can include: 

  •     Muscle strain
  •     Muscle spasms
  •     Poor posture
  •     Weakness in back muscles
  •     Weakness in abdominal muscles
  •     Sitting too long, e.g. working in an office environment
  •     Too little physical activity
  •     Being overweight or obese
  •     Lifting heavy objects

Related Link: Back To School Without The Back Pain

How Can Acute Back Pain Be Treated? 

In many cases, acute back pain may be treated with pain medication available over the counter. This can be in an oral form such as paracetamol or topical pain relief such as creams, salves, and ointments. 

For many people, acute back pain often responds well to treatments such as physiotherapy. Manual therapies and graded exercises are particularly popular amongst people with acute back pain. This can include: 

  •     Massage
  •     Joint mobilisation
  •     Joint manipulation
  •     Stretching


Chronic Back Pain 

What Is Chronic Back Pain? 

Chronic back pain is pain anywhere in your back that lasts for a longer amount of time— at least three months continuously, or six months intermittently. While acute back pain is pain directly related to tissue damage, chronic pain continues after the damaged tissue has healed. 

What Can Cause Chronic Back Pain? 

As the spine and its supporting structures are quite complex, there are many different causes of chronic back pain. These can include: 

  •     Degenerative disc disease
  •     Osteoarthritis
  •     Herniated disc
  •     Spinal stenosis
  •     Compression fractures
  •     Sciatica
  •     Cancer

How Can Chronic Back Pain Be Treated? 

As most oral pain relief isn’t intended for long-term use, chronic back pain may be more suitable to be managed with a combination of treatments such as: 

  •     Spinal mobilisation
  •     Soft tissue mobilisation
  •     Core stabilisation
  •     Strengthening exercises
  •     Stretching
  •     Heat/cold therapy


Back Pain Treatment At NDPE 

The biggest takeaway of the differences between acute and chronic back pain is the length of time it lasts. However long you’ve been experiencing back pain, when it’s impacting your day-to-day life it’s time to seek treatment. At NDPE we offer a wide range of possible treatment options including acupuncture, physiotherapy, massage therapy, dry needling, exercise programs, and more. To discover your options or to book an appointment, get in touch with our professional and caring team today.



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Northern Districts Physiotherapy

Northern Districts Physiotherapy & Sports Clinic was established in 1995 and consists of an energetic team of highly qualified and experienced professionals who take the time to understand ...


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