Is my back pain cancer?

Jan 26, 2024

Is my back pain cancer?

 Having back pain can be worrying. If you’ve never had back pain before, if you are in a lot of pain, not getting better as quickly as you’d hoped … can lead you to worrying, googling and hey presto you’ve got some terrible disease.

I had an Auntie who convinced herself she had all the symptoms of prostate cancer – all except one!! She was very concerned to know where her prostate had gone!


90% of back pain is mechanical (joints, muscles, nerves, ligaments etc) or injury related.

So, most of the time back, in isolation, back pain doesn’t indicate something worrying.


However, it’s important to get it checked out by a professional who is trained to screen your back pain for any other worrying signs or symptoms.

Osteopaths are allied health professionals, recognised by the NHS.  We have undertaken extensive training to help screen when there is cause for concern and how to appropriately refer on for further testing.


Osteopathy for back pain

back pain cancer osteopathy

That’s why when you come in a tell us what your concerns are we might seem to ask you some weird questions, that don’t seem relevant.

Can you go to the toilet normally? Any rashes? Are you sleeping ok?  Is the pain worse when you go to the loo? Have you lost weight recently? Are you sweating more than normal?

We also like to ask question about any past medical history, family history, general health, and all parts of your body – heart, lungs, water works, gynae, periods and bowels (again!)


We aren’t just being nosy.

It all helps us to screen to see if there may be other health issues or worrying symptoms (red flags) that could be underlying your symptoms.

It’s also a good opportunity to touch base with you about your general health and spot an issue that may not be related to what you’ve come in for, but needs to be followed up on with your GP.

Osteopaths have a wealth of medical knowledge too and we frequently liaise with GPs. For many patients we are the first contact you may have had with a healthcare provider, about the issues, so we need to be on our toes.

If you are worried about any of your symptoms, please see you GP.  We aren’t suggesting we are an alternative to that,

but rather people often see us before seeing the GP, for other reasons.


 A peak inside an osteopath’s mind….

From these questions and the information, you have given us, the cogs start turning.   We draw up a ‘list’ of possible causes of your pain.

This includes considering if it’s mechanical, referred pain, injury – but most importantly whether there are any ‘red flags’ that could indicate an issue with another part of your body (issues with your kidneys, for example can result in back pain) or any worrying symptoms.

This then allows us to draw up another list, of physical tests we need to do to rule in or out some of these possible diagnoses.

cancer back pain osteopathy

The examination

The next step if the physical examination.  This might involve testing nerves, what makes pain better or worse, an abdominal exam and taking blood pressure.

We can then conclude from our list what the most likely cause of your pain is and build a treatment plan for you.  If necessary, we can refer you onto your GP.


Never complacent….

We are always reassessing and retesting as needed. Every time you see us, we will ask how you about any changes or new symptoms.

We might even be really annoying and repeat some questions we’ve asked you before.  This makes sure we aren’t missing something.


When would we refer:

cancer back pain osteopathy

  • If you aren’t getting better as expected
  • Symptoms have changed / new symptoms have developed that suggested a potential worrying cause
  • Potential red flags symptoms (e.g. loss of bowel / bladder function, night sweats, unremitting pain, non-mechanical pain, night pain, unexplained weight loss, co – existing symptoms in other parts of your body…)
  • If we need further tests such as x ray / bloods / scans
  • If we don’t know and need a second opinion
  • If you were worried. You know your body best.


Horses not zebras…..

There’s a phrase ‘[if] you hear hooves think horses not zebras’.  What’s most likely, is most likely.

So, don’t sit at home worrying and googling some weird and wonderful disease, come and see us get some expert help and answers.


Useful resources

What we treat

What’s osteopathy?

Cancer – Signs and symptoms – NHS (

Cancer Research UK

What to expect – General Osteopathic Council (


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