Since most episodes of lower back pain are self-limited, it is often advisable for patients to employ back care on their own early in the course of low back pain.
Back Care First Aid
In most cases, do-it-yourself back care for low back pain should center on a combination of:
- A short course of rest, limited to one to two days
- Pain medication, such as NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen) and/or acetaminophen
- Application of ice and/or heat on the lower back to decrease inflammation.
Slow mobilization and gentle stretching is then an advisable form of lower back pain care, and the sooner a patient can return to his or her normal functional activities, the sooner the episode of lower back pain will usually get better.
Other Forms of Lower Back Care
Walking is often an excellent exercise for low back pain since it is gentle on the back and helps oxygenate the soft tissues in the back to stimulate a healing response. If walking is too painful, exercising in the water (water therapy or pool therapy) is usually tolerable. Such back care is typically beneficial for lower back pain because the water counteracts gravity and helps to support the patient’s weight in a controlled fashion.
Sitting upright (e.g. in an office chair, driving) will often aggravate low back pain, since this position loads the back three times more than standing. Sitting in a reclining position, however, relieves pressure on the lower back and is often the most comfortable position for patients experiencing an episode of back pain in the lower back (lumbar spine).
When to Seek Lower Back Care from a Medical Professional
If the lower back pain symptoms do not start to abate within one to two weeks, medical attention should be sought from either the patient’s primary care doctor or chiropractor. The assessment of the patient begins with a history of the patient’s low back pain and includes questions such as:
- Where is the back pain?
- Is there more low back pain or more leg pain?
- How long has the pain been present?
- Does anything make the lower back pain better?
- Does anything make the low back pain worse?
- What back pain care has been tried?
- Have there been other episodes of lower back pain?
A physical exam will also be done to assess the patient’s nerve function and motion in the lower back. Sometimes diagnostic studies (such as an x-ray) will be recommended to better assess the anatomy of the patient’s spine and determine the specific type of back care.
Initial Back Care and Lower Back Pain Help
Combining the information from the patient’s history, physical exam, and diagnostic studies, the health provider will then recommend a course of back care for the lower back pain. Generally, conservative (non-surgical) treatments for the low back pain will be recommended first.
If conservative back care fails, back surgery may be a reasonable option to try to cure the lower back pain.