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First Aid for Low Back Pain

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Topic Overview

Use these tips when your back aches.

Keep moving

If you can, walk for 10 to 20 minutes at a time every 2 to 3 hours. Walk on level surfaces, not on hills or stairs. Walk quickly if you can, and swing your arms as you walk.

Lying down for too long can make back pain worse. Sitting can make it worse too. Change positions every 30 minutes. If you must sit for long periods of time, take breaks. Get up and walk around, or lie flat to gently stretch your back.

Exercise helps low back pain. Learn about some exercises you can try:

actionset.gif Low Back Pain: Exercises to Reduce Pain

When you do lie down, protect your back slideshow.gif on the way down. And learn the sleeping positions that protect your back.

Ice and heat

There is no rule about using heat or ice for back pain. You can try each to see which works best for you.

Medicine for pain

Pain medicine can help you recover from low back pain by controlling pain during rest and activity. For best results:

  • Learn what the risks and side effects are before you take any pain medicine.
  • Take pain medicine soon after the pain starts, on a regular schedule. Follow the instructions on the label.
  • Don’t take more than one kind of medicine unless your doctor has told you to.

For most low back pain, you can take over-the-counter pain medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example) or ibuprofen (such as Advil or Motrin) or naproxen (such as Aleve).

If you have been prescribed a muscle relaxant or an opiate for severe pain, carefully follow your doctor’s advice.

Movement tips

  • When a movement hurts, go gently.
  • When moving into a lying-down position, keep your back straight.
  • Don’t sit up to read or watch TV in bed. Use your bed only for lying down.
  • Sit on firm seating. Look for chairs with armrests for lowering and raising yourself.
  • When you first get up in the morning, wait 40 to 60 minutes before doing any vigorous exercises.

Is it an emergency?

Most of the time you'll be able to handle low back pain at home. But there may be times when you need to call your doctor, or even 911. For more information, see the When to Call a Doctor section of the topic Low Back Pain.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: December 14, 2011
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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