Many people will feel better within 1 week after the start of back pain. After
another 4 - 6 weeks, the back pain will likely be completely gone. However,
it is important to take the right steps when you first get pain. This can help
make sure that you are one of the many people who get better right away.
No matter how often you get back pain, follow these steps every time you feel
It is a common misconception that you need to rest and avoid activity for
a long time after you hurt your back. In fact, bed rest is NOT recommended.
If you have no indication of a serious underlying cause for your back pain,
then you should stay as active as possible. Otherwise, you should reduce physical
activity only for the first couple of days and gradually resume your usual
activities after that. Here are some tips for how to handle pain and activity
- Stop normal physical activity for the first few days. This helps calm your
symptoms and reduce any inflammation in the area of the pain.
- Apply heat or ice to the painful area, whichever feels better to you. Another
good method is to use ice for the first 48 - 72 hours to reduce inflammation,
followed by using heat to help loosen the muscles.
- Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
or acetaminophen (Tylenol). If you cannot take either of these for medical
reasons, like a stomach ulcer, stomach inflammation, or a liver disorder,
then check with your doctor for other pain relieving measures. Selective
anti-inflammatory medicines called COX-2 inhibitors may
be less harmful to the stomach, but serious questions have been raised regarding
their effects on the heart.
- Muscle relaxants are not first-line therapeutic agents, but may be considered
when there is significant muscle spasm. Such drugs cause drowsiness, and
should be taken at bedtime.
Getting a good night's sleep when you have back pain can be quite difficult.
Try taking a warm bath or practicing relaxation techniques before going to
bed. Also, lie in a curled-up, fetal position with a pillow between your legs.
If you usually sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees to relieve
pressure. A firm, but comfortable, mattress is recommended.
What NOT to do
- Do NOT confine yourself to bed. Over time, bed rest can lead to loss of
muscle tone and bone strength. This can cause depression, drain your energy
level, and put you at risk for blood clots.
- Do NOT perform activities that involve heavy lifting or twisting of your
back. Avoid exercise in the days immediately after the pain begins. You should
gradually resume physical activity as soon as possible, particularly under
the guidance of a physical therapist.
See your doctor
You should see a doctor the first time you have back pain, so that you can
get a full examination. Your doctor will be looking to see if the pain is caused
by a serious condition.
If you have any of the following symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor
- Severe pain that is not resolving with conservative measures
- Numbness, tingling, weakness or loss of sensation of your legs
- Loss of bowel or bladder control
Review Date: 4/6/2007
Reviewed By: Benjamin D. Roye, M.D., M.P.H., Orthopaedic Surgery, The Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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