Low Back Pain: Brief Version

What is low back pain?

Low back pain is pain and stiffness in the lower back. Most of the time, it happens if you strain a muscle in your back. This can happen when you lift a heavy object or when you sit or stand for a long time. Health problems, like arthritis, can also cause back pain.

What are the symptoms?

You may have pain in your lower back. The pain may spread down to your legs.

How is it treated?

The treatment for low back pain depends on the cause. Your healthcare provider may suggest:

  • Rest. It’s best to try to stay active. Try not to rest in bed longer than 1 to 2 days or as long as your provider tells you to.
  • Exercise. Your provider may send you to physical therapy or give you exercises to do at home.
  • Medicine. Take all medicine as directed by your healthcare provider.
  • Surgery. In some cases, you may need surgery. However, most common causes of back pain don’t need surgery.

How can I take care of myself?

Here are some ways to take care of low back pain:

  • Put an ice pack, gel pack, or package of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth on your back every 3 to 4 hours for up to 20 minutes at a time.
  • Put a hot water bottle or electric heating pad on your back. Cover the hot water bottle with a towel or set the heating pad on low so you don’t burn your skin.
  • Take nonprescription pain medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen. Read the label and take as directed. Unless recommended by your healthcare provider, you should not take these medicines for more than 10 days.
    • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, naproxen, and aspirin, may cause stomach bleeding and other problems. These risks increase with age.
    • Acetaminophen may cause liver damage or other problems. Unless recommended by your provider, don’t take more than 3000 milligrams (mg) in 24 hours. To make sure you don’t take too much, check other medicines you take to see if they also contain acetaminophen. Ask your provider if you need to avoid drinking alcohol while taking this medicine.

When you sleep or lie down:

  • Lie on your side with your knees bent. It may help to put a pillow between your knees.
  • Put a pillow under your knees when you sleep on your back.

Here are some ways to put less strain on your back:

  • Lose weight if you are overweight.
  • Use good posture. Stand with your head up, shoulders straight, chest forward, your weight on both feet, and your pelvis tucked in.
  • Sit in a straight-backed chair and hold your spine against the back of the chair.
  • Sit close to the pedals when you drive. Use your seat belt and a hard backrest or pillow.
  • Use a footrest for one foot when you stand or sit in one spot for a long time. This keeps your back straight.

Here are tips when you need to lift or move heavy objects:

  • Don’t push with your arms when you move a heavy object. Turn around and push backwards so your legs take the strain.
  • Bend your knees and hips and keep your back straight when you lift something heavy.
  • Don’t lift heavy objects higher than your waist.
  • Hold packages you carry close to your body, with your arms bent.
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-10-21
Last reviewed: 2014-09-15
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

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