Strategies to minimize harm and maximize self-care.
Short-term lower back pain generally lasts a few days to a few weeks and is usually the result of trauma to the lower back, or conditions such as poor posture, obesity, poor physical condition, smoking, stress, or a poor sleeping position. Occasionally, back pain "radiates" from the kidneys, abdomen, or other parts of the body.
- muscle aches or stabbing pain in lower back
- limited flexibility or range of motion
- difficulty standing straight
Being physically active significantly improves low back pain. Treatment involves pain relievers, reducing inflammation, restoring proper function and strength to the back, and preventing recurrence of the injury.
Applying heat with heating pads or heated blankets can provide short-term relief of acute back pain. Warm baths can also help muscles relax. Avoid sleeping on a heating pad, which can burn and lead to tissue damage.
At night or while resting, lie on one side, with a pillow between the knees to ease pain and reduce stress on the lower back. Bed rest alone can worsen back pain and lead to complications such as depression, decreased muscle tone, and blood clots in the legs. Resume normal activities as soon as possible.
Trained specialists (such as chiropractors or osteopaths) use spinal manipulation to reduce pain and restore mobility.
Gentle working of the soft tissues can be performed by a massage therapist to help with pain and restore soft tissue mobility.
Acetaminophen, naproxen, and ibuprofen are pain relievers that can be taken orally to ease pain and reduce stiffness, swelling, or inflammation. Follow the recommended dosage on the label directions when using acetaminophen. The recommended dose for ibuprofen is three 200 mg tablets every four to six hours, taken with food. Do not exceed 2400 mg daily.
Prescription medications may be prescribed to manage severe pain. These medications should be used only for a short period of time and under a clinician’s supervision. Side effects can include drowsiness, slower reaction time, and impaired judgment. Chronic use of these drugs may be harmful, adding to depression and possibly increasing pain, and has the potential for addiction.
When to contact a clinician
- frequent, painful, or bloody urination
- severe pain that spreads to the legs or buttocks
- leg pain that goes below the knee
- a history of back of spine problems
- pain and inflammation not reduced after 72 hours of self-care
- progressive weakness or numbness in legs
- pain accompanied by fever
- loss of bowel or bladder control
- inability to empty bladder fully