Back Pain

Back pain can be felt anywhere along your back. It's most common to have pain in your lower back.

You can usually treat back pain at home with gentle exercises and painkillers. See a GP if it does not get better after a few weeks.

Back pain can sometimes be caused by a problem with the joints, bones or tissues around the spine. But often there's no obvious cause.

The following tips may help reduce your back pain and speed up your recovery:

  • stay as active as possible and try to continue your daily activities – this is 1 of the most important things you can do, as resting for long periods is likely to make the pain worse
  • try exercises and stretches for back pain; other activities such as walking, swimmingyoga and pilates may also be helpful
  • take anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen – remember to check the medicine is safe for you to take and ask a pharmacist if you're not sure
  • use hot or cold compression packs for short-term relief – you can buy these from a pharmacy, or a hot water bottle or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth or towel will work just as well

Although it can be difficult, it helps if you stay optimistic and recognise that your pain should get better. People who manage to stay positive despite their pain tend to recover quicker.

A GP, specialist or physiotherapist may recommend extra treatments if they do not think your pain will improve with self-help measures alone.

These may include:

  • group exercise classes where you're taught exercises to strengthen your muscles and improve your posture
  • manual therapy treatments, such as manipulating the spine and massage, which are usually done by a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath
  • psychological support, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), which can be a useful part of treatment if you're struggling to cope with pain

Some people choose to see a therapist for manual therapy without seeing a GP first. If you want to do this, you'll usually need to pay for private treatment.

Surgery is generally only considered in the small number of cases where back pain is caused by a specific medical condition.

It's often not possible to identify the cause of back pain. Doctors call this non-specific back pain.

Sometimes the pain may be from an injury such as a sprain or strain, but often it happens for no apparent reason. It's very rarely caused by anything serious.

Occasionally back pain can be caused by a medical condition such as:

  • slipped (prolapsed) disc – where a disc of cartilage in the spine presses on a nearby nerve
  • sciatica – irritation of the nerve that runs from the pelvis to the feet

These conditions tend to cause additional symptoms, such as numbness, weakness or a tingling sensation, and they're treated differently from non-specific back pain.


Page last reviewed: 14-01-2020
Next review due:14-01-2023

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