Exactly What to Do to Soothe Acute Back Pain at Home

Simple changes can make a big difference.

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Back pain is one of the most common ailments experienced by American adults. In terms of the number of doctor visits, lower back pain is second only to colds and flu. Here are the most common types of back pain.

Back pain that lasts for less than a few weeks is known as acute back pain—meaning it may be severe but temporary. Usually it can be treated at home with simple remedies or lifestyle tweaks. “Most occurences of acute back pain will resolve fairly quickly within a few days or few weeks with conservative treatment,” says Kaliq Chang, MD, pain specialist in New York City.

Feeling acute back pain? Before you ring up your doctor, try these treatment tips at home first:

  • Take an anti-inflammatory like naproxen or ibuprofen. Since inflammation is a common cause of acute back pain, taking an anti-inflammatory is usually a good place to start treatment, says Dr. Chang.

  • Limit bed rest. “When you have a severe episode of acute back pain, resting for a day is warranted, but you do not want to be staying sedentary for much more than that,” says Dr. Chang. Movement actually helps speed up recovery and soothe pain.

  • Adjust your sleep position. Sleep on your back? Tucking a pillow behind your knees can reduce stress on the back and spine. Similarly, side sleepers can place a pillow in between their knees and curl their legs up toward their chest. “Sleeping on the stomach is generally not recommended as this almost always leads to hyperextension of the back,” says Dr. Chang. Learn more about how your sleep position impacts your health.

  • Try hot or cold therapy. Cold compresses work best if your back is inflamed. Signs of inflammation in the back include swelling and feeling hot and sensitive to the touch. Alternatively, heat therapy works best for stiffness by increasing blood flow to the area.

  • Exercise regularly, but stick to workouts that cause less strain on the back, such as pedaling on a stationary bike, doing pool exercises, or using the elliptical without the twisting arm movements. Avoid exercises that strain the back, such as running on hard surfaces or heavy weight lifting. Here are more benefits of regular exercise.

  • Try physical therapy. “The goal of physical therapy for managing back pain is to show you the proper stretches, exercises, and pain management techniques that will avoid exacerbating or worsening the injury,” says Dr. Chang.

Consult a pain management doctor. If your acute back pain has lasted several weeks despite trying a variety of treatment techniques at home, it’s a good idea to seek the advice of a professional.