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First Aid for Low Back Pain

Overview

For the first day or two of back pain, take it easy. Being less active and avoiding movements that hurt might be enough to help your back feel better.

As soon as you can, ease back into your normal routine. Lying down or sitting for too long can make back pain worse. If you must sit for long periods of time, take breaks. Get up and walk around, or lie down. Change positions every 30 minutes.

Sit or lie in positions that are most comfortable and that reduce your pain. Try one of these positions:

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and supported by large pillows.
  • Lie on the floor with your legs on the seat of a sofa or chair.
  • Lie on your side with your knees and hips bent and a pillow between your legs.
  • Lie on your stomach if it doesn't make pain worse.

Using medicine for back pain

Medicine can reduce low back pain, but it should be used along with other treatments, such as heat or ice. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen and naproxen, seem to work best for low back pain. But if you can't take NSAIDs, you can try acetaminophen. Follow your doctor's advice for all medicines.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You are unable to move a leg at all.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or increased back pain with a fever.
  • You have long-term back pain that suddenly gets much worse, and you did not cause it by being more active.
  • You lose bladder or bowel control.
  • You have new or worse symptoms in your legs, belly, or buttocks. Symptoms may include:
    • Numbness or tingling.
    • Weakness.
    • Pain.
    • Your leg or arm looks blue or feels cold, numb, or tingly.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are not getting better as expected.

Related Information

Credits

Current as of: March 9, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine

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