Back pain: Do's and don’ts to get you back in action

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3 common questions answered

Have you ever met anyone who’s never had low back pain? Probably not. It affects nearly everyone at some point—causing anxiety and disrupting daily activities. Fortunately, research shows that low back pain is rarely caused by serious underlying disease, and you can do a lot to ease your pain.

What can I do about the pain now?

Medications that reduce swelling and pain such as ibuprofen may relieve discomfort. Research shows that for most people, these medicines work as well as opioids or muscle relaxants, but are less likely to cause side effects.

Experts also recommend avoiding bed rest and staying as active as possible.

Research shows that anxiety, depression, stress, and a person’s attitude can make a difference. Because of this, many health care providers now ask people with back pain about these issues.

Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute studies have shown that complementary and integrative treatments can help when back pain does not respond to medications. We have studied acupuncture, massage, yoga, and mindfulness-based stress reduction and found that all work well to help ease back pain.

When will I get better?

Most people with back pain are much better within a month. Many improve within a few days. Almost all improve within three months. Some discomfort may last longer, but that hardly ever means that a dangerous problem has been missed.

Unfortunately, back pain often returns. But regular exercise such as yoga, tai chi, and walking can reduce your risk of recurrences.

When should I call my doctor?

Most back pain goes away over time. But in very rare cases, it may be accompanied by signs of a serious problem that require urgent attention from a health care provider. These include:

  • History of cancer
  • History of osteoporosis
  • Numbness in the groin area, weakness, incontinence, or problems urinating.
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fever
  • Recent infection, such as a urinary tract infection
  • Progressive weakness
  • Back pain that doesn’t change when you move and hurts even when lying down

Learn more

From Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute

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