Back pain

Back pain is very common and usually improves with stretches and exercise within a few weeks or months. It is important to focus on this as a treatment and painkillers are to allow you to do this. Painkillers should be a short term solution only.

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

  • Stay as active as possible and try to continue your daily activities Resting for long periods is likely to make back pain worse
  • Try exercises and stretches for back pain
  • Take anti-inflammatory painkillers, such as ibuprofen
  • Use hot or cold compression packs for short-term relief 

People who manage to stay positive despite their back pain tend to recover quicker.

Back pain usually gets better on its own within a few weeks or months and you may not need to see a doctor or other healthcare professional.

But it's a good idea to get help if the back pain:

  • does not start to improve within a few weeks
  • is worse at night
  • is very severe or gets worse over time
  • causes numbness or weakness in your legs with the pain


Useful information about lower back pain

When to contact your GP

You should contact a GP or NHS 111 immediately if you have back pain and:

  • numbness or tingling around your genitals or buttocks
  • difficulty peeing
  • loss of bladder or bowel control – peeing or pooing yourself
  • chest pain
  • a high temperature
  • unintentional weight loss
  • a swelling or a deformity in your back
  • it started after a serious accident, such as after a car accident
  • the pain is so bad you're having problems sleeping
  • pain is made worse when sneezing, coughing or pooing
  • the pain is coming from the top of your back, between your shoulders, rather than your lower back

These problems could be a sign of something more serious and need to be checked urgently.

If you see a GP or first contact physiotherapist they will ask about your symptoms, examine your back and discuss possible back pain treatment.

They may refer you to a specialist doctor or a physiotherapist for further help. Alternatively, you could choose to pay for private treatment.

Relax and stay positive

Trying to relax is a crucial part of easing the pain as muscle tension caused by worrying about your condition may make things worse.

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

How to manage stress associated with pain

Back pain caused by a medical condition

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

  • a 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.

It's difficult to prevent back pain, but you can help reduce your risk:

  • Do regular back exercises and stretches
  • Stay active – doing regular exercise can help keep your back strong
  • Take care when lifting
  • Check your posture when sitting, using computers or tablets and watching television 
  • Lose weight through a combination of a healthy diet and regular exercise if you're overweight