Acute lower back pain

Acute low back pain is very common. Eight out of ten adults will experience an episode at some point in their lives.

In the acute stage- the first 48 hours- there are a few simple things you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable.


Absolute rest is not the answer but relative rest may be necessary. Try lying on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the bed, or lying on your side with a pillow between your knees and ankles. However you do not want to sustain any one position for more than 20 minutes, so aim to move before you start to feel discomfort.

Try and carry on your normal activities but in smaller amounts and in shorter blocks of time. Try and continue going to work but on lighter duties if required.

Use painkillers e.g. paracetamol and ibuprofen as required to allow you to carry on moving gently. Check with your pharmacist if you are already taking medication or if you are not sure what your system will tolerate.

Use a heat or cold pack as you prefer. Heat tends to work best when you are experiencing muscle spasm (the muscle feels tight and hard) or cold for muscle sprain (the muscle feels hot). Make sure you don’t burn yourself with either modality- put a towel between the heat pack and your skin and a damp towel between the cold pack and the skin, and keep monitoring your skin condition.

Try not to panic. It is likely that you will make a full recovery relatively quickly. Try not to let gloomy and pessimistic thoughts run away with you. Remind yourself that you will get better.

If your symptoms persist and you need extra help a physiotherapy assessment and treatment can quickly put you back on the road to recuperation.

Having experienced a bout of Acute Low Back Pain take it as a wake up call that all is not well with your back. As the pain settles you may need to address your posture, fitness levels and activities to make sure you do not put yourself at risk in the future. Physiotherapy can help to assess these factors and advise on treatment and rehabilitation.

If during your episode of Acute Low Back Pain you become suddenly incontinent you should not delay going to your local A&E as this could indicate a more severe problem.

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