Simple changes can make a big difference.
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.
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Most occurrences of acute back pain
will resolve fairly quickly within
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a few days or
a few weeks with conservative treatment.
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One of the first things to try
when experiencing acute back pain
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is taking an anti-inflammatory medication
such as Naproxen or Ibuprofen.
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These are medications that
can reduce inflammation,
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which is the cause of most types of pain.
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When you have a severe episode of acute
back pain, resting for a day is warranted,
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but you do not want to be staying
sedentary for much longer than that.
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It's important to get up and walk around,
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as this is gonna help speed up and
improve the healing process.
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There are ways to minimize the symptoms of
acute back pain by the position that you
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have when sleeping.
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If you sleep on your back,
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placing a pillow behind the knees can help
relieve some of the strain on the back.
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If you sleep on your side,
having a pillow between the knees and
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curling the knees up toward your chest can
also help relieve pressure from the spine.
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Sleeping on the stomach is
generally not recommended,
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as this almost always leads to
hyperextension of the back.
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It may be difficult to sleep when you're
having acute back pain, but it's important
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to have that sleep because that's when
your body conducts most of its healing.
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A lot of patients ask me whether heat or
ice is better for acute back pain.
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If an area of the back
is acutely inflamed,
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it's gonna possibly be swollen,
feel hot and sensitive to the touch.
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More likely this will be
amenable to an ice pack.
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If there's a lot of stiffness in
a particular area of the back,
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along with the pain,
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then perhaps a hot pack will be better
as it's gonna increase the blood flow.
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Increasing blood flow to a damaged area is
gonna help speed up the healing process.
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It's important to maintain
regular exercise even when you
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have an episode of acute back pain.
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However, there are certain types
of exercises that put a lot less
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stress on the back.
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Such as a stationary bicycle,
walking through a swimming pool,
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or using a machine like an elliptical
without the twisting motion of the arms.
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Some of the exercises you wanna avoid
when you're having an acute episode
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of back pain include running on
a hard surface or heavy lifting.
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At any point when you're experiencing
acute back pain would be a good time to
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seek help with physical therapy.
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The goal of physical therapy for
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managing back pain is to show you
the proper stretches, exercises, and
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pain management techniques that will avoid
exacerbating or worsening the injury.
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After experiencing back pain for several
weeks without improvements with these
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conservative treatments, it's warranted
to consult a pain management doctor.
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Low back pain - acute. Washington, DC: MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. (Accessed on November 27, 2018 at https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007425.htm.)
Treatment of acute low back pain. Waltham, MA: UpToDate, 2017. (Accessed on November 27, 2018 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-acute-low-back-pain.)