Back Pain, Adult

ExitCare ImageLow back pain is very common. About 1 in 5 people have back pain. The cause of low back pain is rarely dangerous. The pain often gets better over time. About half of people with a sudden onset of back pain feel better in just 2 weeks. About 8 in 10 people feel better by 6 weeks.

CAUSES

Some common causes of back pain include:

  • Strain of the muscles or ligaments supporting the spine.

  • Wear and tear (degeneration) of the spinal discs.

  • Arthritis.

  • Direct injury to the back.

DIAGNOSIS

Most of the time, the direct cause of low back pain is not known. However, back pain can be treated effectively even when the exact cause of the pain is unknown. Answering your caregiver's questions about your overall health and symptoms is one of the most accurate ways to make sure the cause of your pain is not dangerous. If your caregiver needs more information, he or she may order lab work or imaging tests (X-rays or MRIs). However, even if imaging tests show changes in your back, this usually does not require surgery.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

For many people, back pain returns. Since low back pain is rarely dangerous, it is often a condition that people can learn to manage on their own.

  • Remain active. It is stressful on the back to sit or stand in one place. Do not sit, drive, or stand in one place for more than 30 minutes at a time. Take short walks on level surfaces as soon as pain allows. Try to increase the length of time you walk each day.

  • Do not stay in bed. Resting more than 1 or 2 days can delay your recovery.

  • Do not avoid exercise or work. Your body is made to move. It is not dangerous to be active, even though your back may hurt. Your back will likely heal faster if you return to being active before your pain is gone.

  • Pay attention to your body when you  bend and lift. Many people have less discomfort when lifting if they bend their knees, keep the load close to their bodies, and avoid twisting. Often, the most comfortable positions are those that put less stress on your recovering back.

  • Find a comfortable position to sleep. Use a firm mattress and lie on your side with your knees slightly bent. If you lie on your back, put a pillow under your knees.

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your caregiver. Over-the-counter medicines to reduce pain and inflammation are often the most helpful. Your caregiver may prescribe muscle relaxant drugs. These medicines help dull your pain so you can more quickly return to your normal activities and healthy exercise.

  • Put ice on the injured area.

  • Put ice in a plastic bag.

  • Place a towel between your skin and the bag.

  • Leave the ice on for 15-20 minutes, 03-04 times a day for the first 2 to 3 days. After that, ice and heat may be alternated to reduce pain and spasms.

  • Ask your caregiver about trying back exercises and gentle massage. This may be of some benefit.

  • Avoid feeling anxious or stressed. Stress increases muscle tension and can worsen back pain. It is important to recognize when you are anxious or stressed and learn ways to manage it. Exercise is a great option.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have pain that is not relieved with rest or medicine.

  • You have pain that does not improve in 1 week.

  • You have new symptoms.

  • You are generally not feeling well.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have pain that radiates from your back into your legs.

  • You develop new bowel or bladder control problems.

  • You have unusual weakness or numbness in your arms or legs.

  • You develop nausea or vomiting.

  • You develop abdominal pain.

  • You feel faint.