Treatment & management of back pain


What are the causes of back pain?

Some of the most common origins of pain in the back include the following. However, it's important to note that it's often unclear what causes back pain.

• Injury or overwork (sprains)

• Bad posture

• Osteoarthritis

• Nerve irritation like sciatica

• A slipped disc

How can I treat my back pain?

Finding an effective remedy for your back pain will often depend on the origin of the pain, as you may require specific treatment. However, there are some things that you can do that can help to ease the pain:

• Remain as active as possible. Avoid lifting heavy loads when you're in pain, but otherwise try to go about life as normal. Recent research indicates that rest and inactivity can make back pain worse

• Try to avoid sitting still for long periods, such as at your desk if you work in an office. Get up and walk a little every 45 minutes to improve your mobility

• Apply heat to the affected area. Consider buying heat packs from your pharmacy or apply towels soaked in warm water. Hot showers may also help

• Do some gentle stretching exercises. Your Doctor or physiotherapist will be able to give you some guidance if you're unsure where to start

• Try incorporating gentle exercise like swimming or walking into your regime

• Consider taking painkillers like paracetamol or ibuprofen. Paracetamol alone is not recommended for back pain, but it can be used in combination with stronger painkillers. Always read the patient information leaflet and ask your pharmacist if you're unsure, as NSAIDs in particular aren't suitable for everyone

When should I see my Doctor?

Make an appointment with your Doctor if your pain isn't getting better or is getting worse in spite of rest and painkillers. Your Doctor may ask you to undergo tests to find the origin of your pain before offering further treatment. 

Your Doctor will then be able to consider other treatment options, including referring you for physiotherapy, giving you a prescription for stronger painkillers such as opioids or muscle relaxants, or sending you to a specialist.

You should seek urgent medical advice if you experience back pain alongside any of the following:

• Weakness or paralysis of the arms or legs

• Numbness or tingling around your genitals or buttocks

• A swelling or a deformity in your back

• Your pain doesn't improve after resting or is worse at night

• Lack of sensation in your arms or legs

• Incontinence (inability to control your urine or stools)

• Difficulty urinating

• Pain after an accident or fall

• Fever – a high temperature of 38 degrees Celsius or above

What can I do to help prevent back pain?

Measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of getting back pain include: 

• Regular exercise in line with your fitness level. Start gradually and increase the intensity as your body gets fitter and stronger

• Improve your posture. Check your posture while sitting at a desk; your computer should be at eye level and shouldn't require you to twist your body to use it

• If you're overweight, losing some weight can help to ease the strain on your back

• Break up long periods of standing or sitting with short walks to help your circulation

Next steps

• Rest when you need to but try to remain as active as the pain allows

• Apply heat packs and do some gentle stretching

• Taking painkillers may help ease the pain, but if you're still in pain, ask your pharmacist or Doctor for further advice