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HOW TO MANAGE ACUTE LOWER BACK PAIN

Approximately 80% of the population will experience an episode of lower back pain at some time during their life.  Fortunately, most make a full recovery within a few weeks.  Muscular strain is the most common cause, but you can also damage the intervertebral disc and facet joints in your back. The pain you feel can then spread to your hips, buttocks and legs.

 

The right management of an acute lower back injury will help you recover faster.

 

1.  Relative Rest

Bed rest is no longer considered necessary and can slow down recovery.  Bed rest causes your muscles to become weaker after 48 hours of inactivity and joint stiffness from lack of movement will increase your pain.  However, it is advisable to rest from any strenuous activity such as lifting, heavy manual work and high intensity exercise initially.

 

2.  Normalise

It is important to keep moving and continue with your normal daily activities as much as your pain allows.  This helps increase blood circulation, nerve recovery and ensures the muscles stay active.  Research has shown that people who remain active are likely to recover more quickly. 

3.  Medication

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen can help relieve the pain.  It is always recommended you seek advice from your GP or Pharmacist as to whether it is safe to take these as there are several alternative pain killers.  These medications are fine to use short-term.

 

4.  Ice and Heat

Try an ice pack (frozen vegetables will do) or heat (for example a hot water bottle) and use which ever one gives you most pain relief.  You can always alternate between the two.

5.  Relax and stay positive

Relax and stay positive as this eases your pain by reducing muscle tension.  Worrying about your injury will slow your recovery.  Stress and tiredness will also significantly slow down your recovery.  Also be aware of your breathing, as with acute spasm you may find you are subconciously holding your breath to brace and support your back with movement.  This may help ease your symptoms when moving but it is not helpful for your recovery.  Breathe out (exhale) when doing the most strenuous part of the movement, for example when going from sitting to standing.  

 

6.  Exercises

A simple back exercise such as knee rolls can help reduce your pain.  Lay on your back with your knees bent and feet on the bed or floor.  Keeping the knees together, slowly drop them to one side as far as possible without pain.  Hold it for 3 - 5 seconds then return to the starting position.  Repeat to the other side without pain.  It doesn't matter if you are only able to move your knees a very small distance at first without pain, this will improve everyday.  Repeat 10 times to either side, morning and evening.  This can be done with heat on the lower back and don't forget the breathing techniques mentioned above (drop the knees whilst breathing out).  

Most of the time your pain will ease within two-three weeks and completely resolve within four- six weeks.  If your symptoms are not improving after one -two weeks it is recommended you see your doctor or a Physiotherapist.  You must see your doctor immediately if you have any of the following symptoms: pins and needles or weakness in both legs, bladder or bowel symptoms, reduced sensation in the inner thigh area (saddle region), progressively worsening pain, or if you feel unwell - including a fever or losing weight.

How to prevent lower back pain

Exercise can help prevent lower back pain as stronger muscles are less likely to be strained.  Research shows that those who do regular exercise and are physically active get less back pain and recover faster if they do.  Specific exercises such as 'core strengthening' will target the muscles in the lower back, abdomen and hips.