Basic steps for back pain are best
Most cases of acute back pain don’t require a doctor’s visit. Regardless of treatment methods, most people find that pain goes away within about two to six weeks. Just because the pain will likely go away with time doesn’t mean you can’t work to ease the pain and speed healing. Try:
- Staying as active as tolerated — Perform as much of your daily routine as possible, even with some pain, but in a gentle manner. You may be able to exercise gently or perform light back stretching and strengthening if your pain isn’t too severe. When pain diminishes, you can gradually return to your normal activity level. If pain is severe, you may have to avoid activity for one or two days while it diminishes. However, resting in bed is not recommended, as research has shown that people who rest in bed take longer to recover than do those who maintain activity as tolerated.
- Using ice for injuries — If your back pain was caused by an injury, such as a strained muscle, you may be able to relieve some pain by wrapping an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a cloth and applying it to the painful area. Do this for the first day or two after injury for no more than 20 minutes at a time.
- Using heat at other times — A warm compress, heating pad or a hot bath can help relax muscles that may be tense. Use heat for up to 20 minutes three times a day. It can be used in an alternating fashion with ice as discussed above, or used alone. Never sleep with a heating pad.
- Drugs — Nonprescription pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) or naproxen (Aleve, others) — have the best effect on relieving acute low back pain. Acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) is another pain-relieving option that can be effective.
- Avoid further aggravation — Don’t continue to do anything that might have caused your back pain in the first place. In addition, use good posture and limit activities that aggravate your pain, such as prolonged sitting or strenuous lifting, pulling, pushing or twisting.
- Exercise when initial pain level declines to a tolerable level — Improvements in pain and functioning can be had with many forms of exercise. Walking, yoga and Pilates are three often-used exercises that are associated with back pain improvement. However, the best exercise is often one that you enjoy and matches well with your fitness level — and allows you to gain or maintain fitness with minimal aggravation to your back.
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