What puts the pain in back pain?
If you’re like most people, a strain, sprain or spasm in a muscle or ligament in your back is probably responsible for the pain.
Some of the most common causes of back pain are:
- Lifting incorrectly
- Overstretching during lifting, bending or twisting
- Bad posture
- Poor sleeping position or a sagging mattress
- Being overweight
- Lack of exercise
You’re more likely to suffer from back pain as you get older – it’s most common in people between the ages of 30 and 50.
You’re also more likely to get back pain if you don’t normally exercise and sit at a desk for extended periods. But sometimes you get back pain because you’ve exercised too much! It’s about finding the right balance.
How can you relieve back pain?
When you’ve got back pain, it may be tempting to climb into bed and stay there. But there are simple things you can do in the first 2-3 days to help relieve a sore back and speed your recovery:
Self-care: ice your back for 20 minutes every 1-2 hours when awake. For the first fews days you should avoid applying heat to your back, or indulging in alcohol and massage (even if it feels nice). This will increase inflammation and swelling in your tissues. After 2-3 days you can introduce heat patches or packs to soothe your aching muscles.
Stay active: avoid activities you don’t need to do – but keep up gentle movement if you can and stretch regularly. Exercises for low back pain can be an effective way to speed healing. If you’re unsure, ask your physiotherapist to show you back stretches and back strengthening exercises that can aid your recovery.
Keep moving: avoid staying in one position (e.g. sitting at your computer, watching TV or lying down) for longer than 20-30 minutes at a time. The sooner you can move normally again, the better your back will feel.
Control the pain: taking a simple pain reliever like Nurofen may help you to stay active by providing temporary relief from inflammation, and mild-moderate low back pain. If you are over 65 years, taking other medicines, pregnant or breastfeeding, seek advice from your healthcare professional first.
Be positive: if your back pain is making you frustrated or irritable, try not to let it control you. Practising some simple relaxation and breathing techniques may help you to cope while your back heals.
See your doctor if your back pain does not improve over time or you have any other symptoms that worry you (e.g. fever, difficulty passing urine, weakness, numbness, or pins and needles in your legs).
Tips to help manage back pain
There are several things you can do to reduce the risk of low back injury:
- Lift correctly and avoid heavy items: use your legs and not your back
- Don’t slouch when standing or sitting
- Keep good posture when driving or at your desk
- Exercise regularly and control your weight
- Quit smoking
- Wear comfortable, low-heeled shoes
- Sleep on your side to minimise any curve in your spine and use a firm mattress
National Prescribing Service (NPS). Available at: www.nps.org.au
National Prescribing Service (NPS). Seeing the back of back pain. Medicines Talk No.35, Spring 2010. Available at: