The do’s and don’ts of back pain: What to do if you have an acute episode of back pain

Karen Fergus, lead physiotherapist at Back2Balance, shares her top tips for tackling severe back pain

If you’ve ever suffered from back pain, stiffness and spasm, you’ll know how frustrating and painful it can be. You’ll probably have heard lots of advice for managing back pain and tried lots of different techniques for reducing the spasm — some may have worked, others may have not. But it’s important to separate the effective guidance, from the poor advice, as you could end up doing more harm than good.

The do’s 

Do take painkillers and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) – these are available at all local pharmacies. Speak to your GP or local pharmacist if you are on regular medication, they will advise if it is safe for you to take these in conjunction with any other medication you are on.

Wrap cold packs up in a damp towel and place them along your spine – you can do this as often as you like. This will help to reduce some of the inflammation. Use heat packs along any sore tight muscles – this, combined with gentle massage, will help to relieve muscle spasm. Try to keep as active as possible within your limits but listen to your body. Move within your pain free range – a little but often is sometimes the best way.

Speak to your physio and they can advise if, and when, manual treatment may be necessary.

The don’ts 

Contrary to belief, staying in bed for more than one-to-two days to rest your back will lead to increased pain, stiffness and muscle weakness in the long-term. It will also make it more difficult to get going.

Don’t avoid movement. Instead try to continue with your normal daily activities as much as possible, avoiding heavy things. This will lead to a quicker recovery with fewer complications.

It can be difficult to not let back pain affect your mood. But try if you can to not get frightened or too down and gloomy. Continued pain does not mean you are hurting yourself.

Don’t listen to other people’s horror stories – everyone’s situation is different. If you surf the internet for advice, only read from reputable sources, such as Patient or the NHS.

Remember very few episodes of back pain require surgery, the majority will get better on their own, over time. Keep positive. Keep active.

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