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Mechanical Back Pain: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Exercises

January 30, 2020 by Rebalance Toronto

What is Mechanical Back Pain?

Mechanical back pain - Toronto Physiotherapy Chiropractic and MassageBack pain is a common condition believed to effect four out of every five adults at some point during their lifetime.1 Mechanical back pain occurs when a structure in the back, like an inter vertebral disc, joint or a bone, is stressed or deformed in a way to cause pain. When a load is applied to a structure past a certain threshold, the tissue becomes irritated and increases pain.  If the load is removed the pain will decrease.

Mechanical back pain can be localized to a small area on the spine or it can spread more to either one or both sides of the back. If a nerve root is also affected, the pain may radiate away from the back and down the leg, and even sometimes to the foot, along the path of the affected nerve.

How do I get Mechanical Back Pain?

Mechanical back pain can occur from a trauma to the tissue, such as a fall or a car accident, or it can come on slowly over time with no obvious cause. Repetitive spinal movements, exercising incorrectly, and poor sitting habits are some examples that can lead to the development of mechanical back pain over time.

How can Physiotherapy, Chiropractic, and/or Massage Therapy Help?

Physiotherapy and/or chiropractic can help to determine the root cause of the pain, and create a treatment plan to offload the injured tissue of the spine allowing for healing to occur. The treatment plan may include manual (hands-on) therapy, exercise therapy, and education about how to protect your back. Massage therapy can decrease pain stemming from tight muscles, improve blood flow, and can have a positive effect on the nervous system. Research shows that a well-rounded treatment plan that uses a multidisciplinary approach can lead to more successful outcomes for individuals with back pain. 2

What can I do when I’m in Pain?

Improving your posture to reduce stress on the back is key to reducing mechanical back pain during a flare up. The following strategies can help manage pain:

  • Sleep on your side with a pillow between the knees or on your back with a pillow underneath the knees
  • Use a lumbar support roll on your chair when sitting to decrease pressure on the spine
  • Take a standing break for every 20-30 minutes of continued sitting
  • Temporarily avoid situations in which repetitive bending, twisting or lifting is involved until you have strengthened your back.

What are Safe Home Exercises I can do if the Pain is in my Low Back?

Double Knee to Chest Stretch

Lie on your back and slowly bring one knee up to your chest and then the second knee. Hug the knees to your chest to feel a gentle stretch in your buttocks and low back. Hold for 5 seconds, repeat 10 times, 2-3x/day

Figure 4 Stretch

Lie on your back and cross one leg over the other knee. Pull the knee of the leg that is down towards the chest to feel a stretch in the opposite buttock. Hold for 30 seconds, repeat 2-3x/leg, 1-2x/day.

Cat/Cow Spinal Mobility

On all fours with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips, arch your spine up to the ceiling, like a “cat”. Hold for 2-3 seconds, and then sink your spine down in the opposite direction for 2-3 seconds, like a “cow”. Only go as far up or down as you are able to with no pain. Repeat 10 times, 2-3x/day

Bird Dog

On all fours, extend your opposite arm and leg up and out without allowing your spine to move. Hold the arm and leg in the air for 5 seconds and slowly return to your starting position. Repeat the same with the other arm and opposite leg. 5-10 repetitions per side, 2 sets, 1-2x/day. You should feel this exercise in your core and abdominals as they work hard to stabilize you during and in/out of the movement.

How Long Does it Take to Recover from Mechanical Back Pain?

The earlier you seek professional care and consistency with your prescribed rehabilitation program the more likely you are to have a smooth recovery.  There are many variables that will influence the length of time you are in pain, it can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. In the rare case your mechanical back pain has not improved as expected your Physiotherapist or Chiropractor will refer you on for a more specialized consult with one of our Sports Medicine Doctors.


  1. Statscan
  2. Chen JJ, Bajwa ZH: What is mechanical back pain and how best to treat it?

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Rebalance Sports Medicine is a multidisciplinary clinic in downtown Toronto offering physiotherapy, chiropractic, registered massage therapy, sports medicine, naturopathy, Pilates and more.

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