Back pain, particularly lower back pain, is very common. It usually improves within a few weeks but can sometimes last longer or keep coming back. There are things you can do to help ease the pain.
Causes of back pain
Back pain can have many causes. It's not always obvious what causes it, and it often gets better on its own.
A common cause of back pain is an injury like a pulled muscle (strain).
Sometimes, medical conditions like a slipped disc, sciatica (a trapped nerve) or ankylosing spondylitis can cause back pain.
Very rarely, back pain can be a sign of a serious problem such as a broken bone, cancer or an infection.
How to ease back pain yourself
Back pain often improves on its own within a few weeks. There are things you can do to help speed up your recovery.
stay active and try to continue with your daily activities
take anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen – paracetamol on its own is not recommended for back pain but it may be used with another painkiller
use an ice pack (or bag of frozen peas) wrapped in a tea towel to reduce pain and swelling
use a heat pack (or hot water bottle) wrapped in a tea towel to relieve joint stiffness or muscle spasms
try doing some exercises and stretches for back pain
do not stay in bed for long periods of time
Exercises and stretches for back pain
There are specific exercises and stretches you can do to help with back pain. But stop if your pain gets worse and see a GP for advice.
Activities like walking, swimming, yoga and pilates may also help ease back pain.
See a GP if:
back pain does not improve after treating it at home for a few weeks
the pain is stopping you doing your day-to-day activities
the pain is severe or getting worse over time
you're worried about the pain or you're struggling to cope.
Ask for an urgent GP
You have back pain and:
a high temperature
you've lost weight without trying to
there's a lump or swelling in your back or your back has changed shape
the pain does not improve after resting or is worse at night
the pain is made worse when sneezing, coughing or pooing
the pain is coming from the top of your back (between your shoulders), rather than your lower back
Treatments for back pain
If your back pain is severe or not getting better, a GP may prescribe painkillers or medicines to relax the muscles in your back.
Other treatments may be recommended if your pain does not get better after a few weeks.
group exercise sessions and physiotherapy
manual therapy – where a trained therapist massages and moves the muscles, bones and joints in your back
cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to help you cope with the pain
a procedure to seal off some of the nerves in your back so they stop sending pain signals (only for long-term lower back pain)
If your back pain is caused by a medical condition like a slipped disc and other treatments have not helped, surgery may be an option.