Back Pain

Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

Medically reviewed by Dr. James Tan

Table of Contents

    Your back plays a crucial role in your daily life. From sitting to standing to moving around, this intricate yet powerful body part does a lot more than you might realise. With its complex network of muscles, tendons, ligaments, nerves, blood vessels, and vertebrae, there are countless moving parts. And that is one of the reasons why understanding and treating back pain can be so tricky.

    To help you understand when to see a doctor about back pain and when you can safely treat back pain at home, it is essential to have a fundamental understanding of what is going on inside of your body. To help you better understand your back and how to take care of it, let’s look at some common causes of back pain and how to best treat them.

    Here is your complete guide to treating back pain.

    Understanding Back Anatomy

    Before we dive into back pain treatments, you will want to have a basic knowledge of the anatomy of your back. This seemingly simple body part houses your spine (which is made up of 33 vertebrae that are stacked upon each other) along with discs in between each vertebra that act as shock absorbers. Your spine is what gives your body flexibility and movement while helping to maintain stability and functionality.

    There are major muscles in your back like the erector spinae (which runs the length of your spine and keeps your body upright), latissimus dorsi (which is the largest muscle in your and helps with shoulder movement), back trapezius (which is a triangular muscle in your upper back and neck that moves your neck and shoulders), and rhomboids (which are between your shoulder blades and key to moving your upper back.

    Connecting your muscles to your bone is a network of tendons that operate alongside the ligaments that connect one bone to another bone. Finally, there is an intricate network of nerves that stems from your spinal cord and out into your body to give you sensations, muscle control, and regulation of a range of bodily functions.

    What Are the Different Kinds of Back Pain?

    When you go to see a pain specialist about your back issues, you will be asked about the history of your pain and where the main source of pain seems to be. To get started, your healthcare professional will categorise your pain into one of two types of back pain:

    • Acute back pain: This is defined as short-term pain that has lasted less than three months. This kind of sudden back pain is often caused by injuries such as muscle strains.
    • Chronic back pain: When you are dealing with pain that has persisted for more than three months, it is often related to an underlying condition like arthritis or herniated discs.

    Along with looking at the duration of pain, your doctor will also want to pinpoint the particular location of your pain.

    • Lower back pain: This is the most common back pain location and it is often caused by issues in your lumbar spine (lower back) like muscular strain or spinal stenosis.
    • Upper back pain: Less common than lower back pain, often caused by poor posture or osteoarthritis in the thoracic spine.
    • Middle back pain: Typically caused by strained muscles or inflamed tendons around the ribcage area.

    What Causes Back Pain?

    There are a few common causes of back pain, including the following:

    • Muscle or ligament strain: Repeated heavy lifting, sudden awkward movements, or sports injuries can strain muscles and spinal ligaments. This is a common cause of short-term back pain.
    • Bulging or ruptured discs: Discs act as cushions between the bones (vertebrae) in your spine. This soft material inside a disk can bulge or rupture and press on a nerve, resulting in pain, numbness, or weakness.
    • Arthritis: Arthritis in your spine can cause a narrowing of the space around the spinal cord (a condition called spinal stenosis) that can affect your lower back.
    • Skeletal irregularities: Common issues like scoliosis (the curving of the spine to one side) or kyphoscoliosis (forward bending of the upper spin) can cause back pain.
    • Osteoporosis: In advanced cases of osteoporosis, you might get bone fractures, collapsed vertebrae, and herniated disks are common in severe cases.
    • Stress: Both physical and emotional stress can cause your back muscles to tighten and cause spasms.

    In some cases, back pain can be a side effect of pregnancy, kidney stones, endometriosis, fibromyalgia, and tumours that press on the spinal cord. Pinpointing the exact cause requires an exam by a doctor. If your back pain doesn’t improve with rest after a few days, it is crucial to go to the doctor.

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    Back Pain Treatment in Singapore

    Back pain is very common but can usually be managed with rest, mild activity, over-the-counter medication, and home remedies during acute phases. Getting medical advice is critical if the pain becomes chronic or if any red-flag symptoms come up. Being aware of your back anatomy, the common causes of pain, and possible treatments empowers you to better care for this all-too-common condition.

    You don’t have to live with pain another day! You deserve a back pain doctor who will create the perfect treatment plan for you. To get on the road to recovery, email us at, call +65 6235 8781, or chat with us on WhatsApp at +65 8028 4572. We also offer treatment for cartilage injuries and heel pain treatment.

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    Camden Medical

    1 Orchard Boulevard, #09-06

    Singapore 248649

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    820 Thomson Road

    Medical Centre D #05-60

    Singapore 574623

    What Causes Upper Back Pain?

    When it comes to upper back pain, there are a few common culprits, such as the following:

    • Poor posture like hunching over a computer
    • Osteoarthritis in thoracic spine
    • Muscle strain from overuse
    • Herniated thoracic disc
    • Fibromyalgia
    • Spine infections like meningitis
    • Rib injuries like fractures

    What Causes Middle Back Pain?

    Causes of middle of the back pain can vary quite a bit, with some of the common causes including the following:

    • Strained back muscles, often from poor posture
    • Injured tendons or inflamed ligaments around the ribcage
    • Bulging thoracic discs
    • Osteoporosis fractures in vertebrae
    • Spinal arthritis

    What Causes Lower Back Pain?

    Causes of lower back pain can include the following:

    • Muscle strains
    • Lumbar herniated discs
    • Spinal stenosis in the lower spine
    • Spondylolisthesis or vertebral misalignment
    • Sciatica from pinched lumbar nerves
    • Spinal arthritis like facet joint osteoarthritis
    • Kidney problems like infections or kidney stones

    What Causes Upper Back Pain in Women?

    For women, back pain can have a variety of different causes, such as:

    • Postural issues from large breasts
    • Osteoporosis leading to thoracic fractures
    • Fibrocystic breast disease
    • Perimenopause and menopause affecting spine health
    • Oestrogen-influencing ligament laxity

    What Causes Common Middle Back Pain in Women?

    Women’s middle of the back pain can be caused by the following:

    • Strained muscles from poor posture
    • Weak back muscles during pregnancy
    • Bulging discs from pregnancy weight and strain
    • Postpartum ligament laxity
    • Perimenopause affecting spine discs

    What Causes Lower Back Pain in Women?

    Pain in the lower back in women might be a result of:

    • Muscle strains from pregnancy weight
    • Spinal stenosis which is more common in older women
    • Vertebral fractures from low oestrogen after menopause
    • Kidney and reproductive health issues like cysts, fibroids, endometriosis

    How Do You Know If Back Pain Is Muscular?

    Signs that back pain is muscular include the following:

    • Pain worsens with movement or activity
    • Pain resolves with rest
    • Pain localised to one side or area
    • Aches, stiffness, tenderness in muscles
    • Pain from obvious injuries like heavy lifting
    • Improves with massage, heat therapy

    What Are the Best Treatment For Back Pain?

    If you have back pain, your doctor may suggest some of the following solutions:

    • Over-the-counter medications like Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs), acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin
    • Ice and heat therapy
    • Daily exercises and stretches
    • Physical therapy
    • Massage such as Deep Tissue Massage
    • Spinal injections
    • Surgery if necessary
    • Acupuncture
    • Stress management
    • Losing weight if overweight

    Should I Stay Active or Rest for Back Pain?

    Acute back pain often requires rest for a few days along with icing to calm inflammation. After that initial rest, light activity and stretches can actually help acute pain by promoting blood flow

    For chronic pain, remaining active prevents future stiffness and weakness, along with exercises to strengthen your back.

    As always, it is important to find a balance between rest and activity recommended by your doctor for back pain.

    What Are the Best Exercises for Upper Back Pain?

    Here are a few workouts to consider:

    • Shoulder rolls: Roll shoulders up, back, and down in a circular motion
    • Upper back stretch: Grasp arms behind back and lift chest
    • Doorway chest stretch: Face a doorway with your arm extended and gently lean forward
    • Resistance band rows: Pull a resistance band back with elbows bent
    • Wall angels: Lean back against a wall with arms overhead, and glide your arms down

    What Are the Best Exercises for Middle Back Pain?

    To release tension and pain in the middle of your back, look to these exercises:

    • Cat cow pose: Arch back up and down on all fours
    • Trunk twist: Twist upper body from side to side
    • Knee to chest: Hug one knee at a time into the chest
    • Thoracic rotations: Clasp hands and rotate upper back
    • Foam rolling: Use foam roller vertically along the mid-back

    What Are the Best Exercises for Lower Back Pain

    To relieve lower pain back, the following exercises are helpful:

    • Knee to chest stretch
    • Pelvic tilts
    • Hamstring stretch
    • Partial crunches
    • Supine leg raises
    • Plank hold
    • Kneeling cat-cow
    • Child's pose
    • Wall sits
    • Bridge pose

    Note: While these all of the above can be great exercises for some people, they are not universally beneficial. It is crucial to see a doctor and get specific recommendations for your unique case.

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    Frequently-Asked Questions About Back Pain Treatment in Singapore

    Being strategic with heat and ice treatment for back pain is important. Here is what you will want to keep in mind:

    • Ice helps reduce acute inflammation and pain use for the first 48 to 72 hours
    • Heat helps loosen tight muscles and increase blood flow (use after acute phase subsides)
    • Alternate ice and heat for 15 minutes at a time for the best relief

    About the Author

    Dr. James - Orthopaedic Surgeon in Singapore

    Dr James Tan C H

    Dr James Tan is a highly skilled orthopaedic surgeon in Singapore who has more than 10 years of experience in sports injury surgery and exercise medicine. Apart from partnering with the industry to pioneer advanced and proven treatment techniques, Dr Tan has treated athletes from the Singapore National Teams and professional footballers from the Singapore Premier League and the Young Lions. He is a member of the elite Asian Shoulder and Elbow Group and a founding member of the Singapore Shoulder and Elbow Surgery Society.