How to treat low back pain
GEHA | July 18, 2019
Low back pain is one of the most common reasons for people to see a doctor. Both men and women can be equally affected.
Back pain that comes on suddenly and lasts a few days to about six weeks is called “acute.” Back pain that lasts 12 weeks or longer, called “chronic,” is less common.
Common causes are sprains or strains. These can occur for many reasons, including a fall, heavy lifting, poor posture and lack of exercise. Being overweight might increase your risk too. Back pain can also result from arthritis and other age-related changes in your spine, sciatica, scoliosis, certain infections and injuries such as a vertebral fracture or ruptured disk.
- Muscle ache
- Shooting or stabbing pain
- Pain radiating down your leg
- Pain that worsens with bending, lifting, standing or walking
- Pain that improves with reclining
Most low back pain gradually improves with home treatment and self-care, usually within a few weeks. However, see your doctor immediately if your back pain causes bowel or bladder problems, is accompanied by fever, follows an injury such as a fall or blow to your back, doesn’t improve with rest, causes weakness or tingling in one or both legs, or is accompanied by unexplained weight loss.
For acute back pain, try hot or cold packs. Consult your doctor before taking any over-the-counter pain relievers, as they may interact negatively with current, ongoing medication you may be taking. Bed rest is not recommended. Continue your activities as much as you can tolerate. Stop activity that increases pain, but don’t avoid activity out of fear of pain. If home treatments aren’t working after several weeks, your doctor might suggest stronger medications or other therapies. Alternative therapies include spinal manipulation by a chiropractor, massage, physical therapy, traction and acupuncture.
Imaging tests are not recommended in most cases, except to rule out specific causes of pain including tumors and spinal stenosis. These tests include x-rays, ultrasound, CT and MRI scans.
- Exercise. Low impact exercises such as walking or swimming help increase muscle strength and flexibility.
- Yoga and other stretching exercises to improve posture and help strengthen your muscles and core.
- Don’t slouch when standing or sitting.
- Sleep on your side with your knees bent to help open joints and reduce curvature in your spine.
- Don’t lift heavy objects. When lifting, bend your knees, tighten your stomach muscles, keep your head down and in line with a straight back, and keep objects close to your body.
- Eat a well-balanced diet and maintain a healthy weight.
“Back Pain.” mayoclinic.org, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 4 August 2018.
“Back Pain – Causes.” mayoclinic.org, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 3 August 2018.
“Back Pain – diagnosis and treatment.” mayoclinic.org, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER), 4 August 2018.
“Low Back Pain Fact Sheet.” ninds.nih.gov, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, 14 May 2019.