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What can I do to relieve my back pain?

Not all back pain episodes require a doctor's visit.

You can often manage your pain on your own and return to normal activities as soon as you're ready. Try these suggestions:

  • Keep moving. It's natural to want to avoid using your back when it hurts. However, for most types of back pain, inactivity - especially bed rest - has been shown to do more harm than good. Bed rest can slow the healing process and make your muscles weaker, tighter, and more painful. Although you do want to avoid activities that make your pain worse, stay as active as possible.
  • Find a comfortable position. When you do rest, you may have to experiment with positions to relieve your pain. One position that works well for many people with back pain is to lie on your back with your hips and knees bent, with pillows under your knees. Lying on your side with your knees bent and a pillow between them may also help.
  • Try heat or ice. Ice can lessen your pain, while heat can loosen tight muscles. Apply ice or heat for 15 minutes at a time each hour. Some people find that alternating heat and ice treatments works best. For icing, try an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas. For heating, try a hot water bottle or a heating pad - or take a warm bath. A barrier, such as a towel, should be placed between the cold pack and the skin's surface to prevent skin and nerve damage.
  • Try simple pain medication. Pain medications may not eliminate your pain, but they should control it enough that you can be active. The simplest and safest pain relievers are also usually the most effective. These include the following over-the-counter medications: Acetaminophen (generic Tylenol) or Anti-inflammatories, such as ibuprofen (generic, Advil, Nuprin, or Motrin) or naproxen (Aleve). These medications not only help relieve your pain, but also help reduce inflammation. Please check with your healthcare provider before starting any new medications.