An important part of managing your back pain is to stay positive. Most acute non-specific low back pain (back pain that lasts less than six weeks and has no obvious cause) settles down. However, it does tend to recur in the same way that you might get a headache every now and again.
It’s natural to think that, if your back hurts, you need to rest up. However, bed rest for more than a couple of days may weaken your muscles, making it harder to get going again. Staying active is likely to help. Although exercising may feel sore at first, activities such as swimming, walking and Pilates can help strengthen your back muscles and increase your flexibility. A structured programme may help to keep you exercising regularly.
Get back to your normal daily activities as soon as possible. Some movements may cause you pain, so pace yourself. The aim is to start slowly and try to do a little more each day. If you absolutely have to lift or twist, take extra care. Remember to lift with your knees bent and the weight close to your body
Click on the image to open our infographic of exercises for low back pain.
If you sleep on your side, a firm pillow placed between your knees may reduce the pressure on your lower back and help reduce your pain. Alternatively, if you prefer to lie on your back, two or three firm pillows under your knees may help.
To help keep you active and manage your pain, over–the-counter painkillers, such as paracetamol, may help. Always read the patient information that comes with your medicine and ask your pharmacist for advice if you have any questions.
Hot and cold packs, such as a hot water bottle or bag of frozen peas wrapped in a tea towel, may ease your back pain. You can also buy hot and cold packs that are specifically designed to relieve pain from most pharmacies. Don’t apply ice directly to your skin though as it can damage it. Speak to your GP before using an ice pack if you have problems with your circulation.
Stretching can help to ease discomfort if you’re feeling pain in your lower back. The following stretches may be suggested as part of an exercise programme from your physiotherapist or GP. The stretches shown here may not be suitable for all types of back pain so speak to your GP about specific exercises before you begin.
- Back stretch. Lie on your back, hands behind your head with your knees bent so your feet are flat on the floor. Slowly lower your knees to one side, keeping your feet on the floor. Hold for 10 seconds and then repeat on the other side. Repeat three times on each side.
- Pelvic tilt. Lie on your back with your arms by your side and your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles so you flatten your back against the floor. Hold for five seconds and repeat five times.
- Single knee to chest stretch. Lie on your back with both knees bent. Holding your thigh behind your knee, gently pull one leg into your chest. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat with your other leg. Repeat five times on each side.
- Straight leg raises. Lie on your back with one leg straight and one knee bent. Slowly lift your straight leg so your foot is about six inches off the floor. Hold for up to five seconds and gently lower your leg. Repeat 10 times and then do the same with your other leg.
If you’ve had back pain for a long time and physiotherapy and painkillers haven’t been effective, you may find that a pain management programme helps. The sessions teach you how to live with your pain instead of treating it. Your GP can help arrange your sessions. For more advice about managing long-term back pain, watch our video below.Play video
- Back pain – low (without radiculopathy). NICE Clinical Knowledge Summaries. cks.nice.org.uk, published November 2009
- Back pain. Arthritis Research UK. www.arthritisresearchuk.org, accessed 5 February 2014
- Pain management programmes. The British Pain Society. www.britishpainsociety.org, accessed 5 February 2014
- Low back pain exercise guide. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. orthoinfo.aaos.org, reviewed March 2013
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Reviewed by Dylan Merkett, Bupa Health Information Team, February 2014.
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