There is a very good chance that at some time during your life you will suffer from lower back pain. When it has just occurred, it is referred to as acute back pain versus chronic back pain which is pain that lasts weeks or even months.
For acute back pain the first thing to do is rest those injured muscles. Find a position that is comfortable for your back and rest, but change position every 20 to 30 minutes. If needed, use extra pillows between your knees to help support your back and to avoid extra strain on the already painful back muscles. You may need to support your head and neck with extra pillows as well. If you are still in pain, reposition yourself until you find a comfortable position.
Complete bed rest is not recommended any longer for back pain. Do get up and walk around every 2-3 hours for about 10 – 20 minutes. Walk on a flat area, not one that involves hills or stairs as this would put unwanted strain on your back. Walk only as far as you are able to go without pain, especially if it goes down into your legs.
Take an over the counter pain medication to help relieve the pain. Tylenol or acetaminophen, or over the counter anti-inflammatory medications such as Advil, Motrin, or Aleve and Naprosyn will help the pain and also help reduce the swelling of the strained muscles. During the first few days after a lower back injury, it may be a good idea to take the medicine at regular intervals to help keep the pain under control. Sometimes if you wait until the pain gets too bad before taking a pain medication, it takes too long to get it back under control again, and you may be tempted to take more than needed. Just because a medication is over the counter does not mean there are no side effects. This is especially true with acetaminophen. An overdose of acetaminophen can be fatal, so be very careful not to go over the recommended daily dosage and also be careful and read labels so you are not taking two different medications that contain the same drug.
Another way to help ease the pain in the strained back muscles is to use hot or cold packs. There is no real clinical evidence that says heat or cold helps, but it doesn’t hurt, either. You can sure give it a try and if it makes you feel better, go ahead. Try a warm shower or bath if you are able to get into the tub safely. A heating pad is another choice, but be very careful when using a heating pad. Never place it directly on your skin. Always wrap a heating pad in a towel or some kind of cloth and use it on the lowest setting possible that gives you relief. Place it on your back for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 – 3 hours and don’t lie on the pad. Have it placed on your back if you are able to lie on your stomach. There have been too many cases of people being brought into the hospital with very bad burns from using a heating pad so use it wisely and properly.
Ice packs can be placed on your back for 15 – 20 minutes every 2 – 3 hours also. You may use a frozen bag of peas or corn in place of an ice pack. They mold really well to your body parts and again, wrap any ice pack in a towel and do not place the ice directly on the skin as you can damage your skin that way.
Most acute low back pain should show improvement within 1 -2 days with treatment. However, if you are unable to manage the pain; you have pain when you are resting or are unable to sleep because of the pain, or you develop a fever over 100F that lasts longer than 2 days or any pain, numbness or weakness that extends below the knee worsens, you need to call your doctor.
Most acute low back pain will resolve with home care treatment and does not require a visit to the doctor, but if you have low back pain that is still present after 2 weeks of home care, then you may need to call your doctor to see if they need to have you make an appointment.