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Self-Care for Low Back Pain

Most people have low back pain now and then. In many cases, it isn’t serious and self-care can help. Sometimes low back pain can be a sign of a bigger problem. Call your healthcare provider if your pain returns often or gets worse over time. For the long-term care of your back, get regular exercise, lose any excess weight, and learn good posture.

Woman walking outdoors.

Take a short rest

Lying down during the day may be helpful for short periods of time if severe pain increases with sitting or standing. Long-term bed rest could be damaging.

Reduce pain and swelling

Cold reduces swelling. Both cold and heat can reduce pain. Protect your skin by placing a towel between your body and the ice or heat source.

  • For the first few days, apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes, several times a day. To make a cold pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top. A wrapped frozen bag of vegetables can also work as a cold pack.

  • After the first few days, try heat for 15 minutes at a time to ease pain. Always make sure the heating pad is wrapped. Never sleep on a heating pad.

  • Over-the-counter medicine can help control pain and swelling. Try aspirin or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID) such as ibuprofen.

Exercise

Exercise can help your back heal. It also helps your back get stronger and more flexible, preventing any reinjury. Ask your healthcare provider about specific exercises for your back.

Use good posture to avoid reinjury

  • When moving, bend at the hips and knees. Don’t bend at the waist or twist around.

  • When lifting, keep the object close to your body. Lift heavy items using your legs, not your back. Don’t try to lift more than you can handle.

  • When sitting, keep your lower back supported. Use a rolled-up towel as needed. Make sure your work area or desk is at the correct height.

  • Use a mirror to check your posture when you walk. Stand straight with shoulders back. Ask your providers for exercises that will improve your posture.

Seek medical care right away if:

  • You can't stand or walk

  • You have a temperature over 100.4°F ( 38.0°C), or as advised by your provider

  • You have frequent, painful, or bloody urination

  • You have severe abdominal pain

  • You have a sharp, stabbing pain

  • Your pain is constant

  • You have pain, tingling, or numbness in your leg

  • You have weakness in one or both legs or problems with bladder, bowel, or sexual function. These symptoms should be seen by a provider right away. This is because they can be caused by compression of the nerve bundle at the base of the spine.

  • You feel pain in a new area of your back

  • You notice that the pain isn’t decreasing after more than a week

  • Your symptoms worsen or new symptoms develop

Online Medical Reviewer: Joseph Campellone MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Raymond Kent Turley BSN MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/1/2021
© 2000-2021 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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