Although back pain can be very distressing and worrying, for most people the pain does not represent a serious medical condition. With many causes, and particularly low back pain, the specific source of the pain is not always obvious but rather attributed to “strains and sprains”. The good news is that it often gets better on its own within a few weeks.

Older generations may remember that the advice from many years ago was complete bedrest. Extensive research has shown that this is completely the wrong approach and modern recommendations to speed up your recovery include:

  • staying active and trying to continue with daily activities
  • taking anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen (this class of drug is not suitable for everyone so read the patient information leaflet) – paracetamol on its own is not recommended for back pain but it may be used with another painkiller
  • using an ice pack (a bag of frozen peas works well) wrapped in a tea towel to reduce pain and swelling
  • using a heat pack (or hot water bottle) wrapped in a tea towel to relieve joint stiffness or muscle spasms
  • trying some exercises and stretches for back pain (link to exercise leaflet)

The take home message from modern research is that for most low back pain self-help is key to recovery. What you do in the early stages of pain is a strong predictor of outcome: your back needs movement and those who stay active and get on with life cope best in the long run.

If you are already suffering with back pain, there are many helpful resources on this site and links to external websites.

However, matters are not always this straightforward and, following NHS advice, there are situations where you should seek help.