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


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 acetaminophen or ibuprofen, may relieve discomfort. Research shows that for most people, these medicines work as well as narcotic pain relievers 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 about healing can make a difference. Because of this, many health care providers now ask people with back pain about these issues.

Group Health Research Institute studies have shown that alternative treatments can help when back pain does not respond to medications. We have studied acupuncture, massage, yoga, and spinal manipulation (chiropractic care) and found that all work well to help ease back pain.

When you feel severe pain, you may also need to make changes in your lifestyle and work environment. For example, avoid heels more than one inch high, make sure that your work surfaces are at a comfortable height for you, and use a chair with good back support.

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 still remains.

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

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.


by Joan DeClaire

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From Group Health Research Institute

From Group Health Cooperative