Lower Back Pain Relief

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on July 21, 2024
12 min read

Most of us will experience lower back pain at some point in our lives -- about 80% of us, in fact. 

Your doctor may not be able to figure out exactly what caused it, but some common causes include:

  • Muscle strains or ligament sprains in your back (this is the most common cause of back pain). You may get a strain or sprain by lifting something too heavy or not using good body mechanics while lifting. Some people also strain their back by sneezing, coughing, twisting, or bending over.
  • Broken bones in your spine from an accident, such as fall or car crash. You may have a higher risk of broken bones if you have conditions like spondylolysis or osteoporosis.
  • Nerve compression, which may be caused by arthritis or a herniated disk, which is when one of the cartilage disks in your back tears.
  • Spinal stenosis, which is when the spinal canal in your lower back shrinks and puts pressure on your spinal cord. This can cause severe lower back pain or sciatic nerve pain, which can cause pain in your butt or down your leg. You may also have numbness, tingling, or weakness down your leg to your foot.
  • Osteoarthritis or ankylosing spondylitis can cause lower back pain and stiffness in your lower back due to inflammation in your spine.
  • Spondylolisthesis (pronounced spahn-duh-low-luhs-thee-suhs), which is when one of the bones (vertebra) in your spine slips forward over the one below it.
  • Certain medical conditions, such as kidney stones, abdominal aortic aneurysm, fibromyalgia, or spine tumors.

If you have low back pain, read on to find out how you can manage it.

This can make a big difference, especially if you’ve had the pain for more than 4-6 weeks. With techniques like electrical stimulation, ultrasound, heat, and muscle relaxation, these specialists help you get more mobile and flexible.

They can also teach you exercises to do on your own to keep your symptoms from coming back. These can help your posture and keep your back and abdominal muscles (your core) healthy.

Getting a massage may help relieve lower back pain. One study found that people who got either structural massage (soft-tissue techniques to address problems with your muscles or skeleton) or relaxation massage (stroking, kneading, or circular motions to help you relax) saw improved symptoms after 10 weeks. They were able to get through their daily activities more easily and used less pain medication than those who just got regular care. If you’re interested in trying manipulation or massage, talk to your doctor about finding a qualified health professional or massage therapist.

Another option is manual manipulation. Manipulation is when physical therapists or other health professionals, like chiropractors, use different techniques to move your spine through its full range of movement. Studies show that if you’ve had back pain for more than a month, this can be a safe and effective treatment. But you may need several sessions.

People who have chronic pain or trouble handling what life throws their way are almost three times more likely to have back pain than people who have neither. That means if you’re always anxious or expect the worst in every situation, you may be more likely to have pain.

How to relieve lower back pain caused by stress

Psychological therapies like mindfulness-based stress reduction can help ease your symptoms. This practice teaches you to ignore negative mental chatter and focus on your breathing. Check online for tips on how to use these techniques.

Nonprescription pain relievers can help with muscle aches and stiffness. 


The two main types of over-the-counter options are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and acetaminophen. NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen.

True to their name, NSAIDs lower inflammation that can lead to swelling and tenderness. But acetaminophen does not relieve inflammation. You can reach for either type of pain reliever for occasional back pain.

Topical pain relievers

Skin creams, salves, ointments, or patches may help when your back feels stiff, sore, and tense. Many of these products contain ingredients such as menthol, camphor, or lidocaine that can cool, heat, or numb the affected area.

Apply creams right where you hurt. Ask someone to apply it if you have trouble reaching the spot.

Ask your doctor if they suggest any supplements that might help with your lower back pain. Some supplements you can try include:

Willow bark. White willow bark contains a chemical that's very similar to aspirin. And it seems to work for lower back pain. A moderately sized study showed that taking willow bark supplements can improve back pain better than placebo. This may not be for you if you are allergic or sensitive to aspirin or have asthma, diabetes, gout, gastritis, hemophilia, stomach ulcers, or kidney or liver issues. Also, ask your doctor about willow bark supplements if you regularly take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or a blood thinner. 

Comfrey. A small study suggested that an ointment made with comfrey root extract could decrease back pain more than a placebo ointment. The study also showed that the ointment worked within an hour.

Capsicum. Another small study suggested that using a bandage with capsicum ointment could decrease back pain more than a bandage with placebo ointment. 

Devil's claw. A few small studies suggest that taking a devil's claw extract for a month can help relieve pain in people with lower back pain. One study suggested devil's claw may work as well as rofecoxib (Vioxx), which is an NSAID the FDA took off the market in 1999.


Practicing good posture helps ease the pressure on your lower back. You can use tape, straps, or stretchy bands to help keep your spine in alignment. Aim to keep your head centered over your pelvis. Don’t slouch your shoulders or crane your chin forward.

If you work in front of a screen, rest your arms evenly on the table or desk, and keep your eyes level with the top of the screen. Get up from your chair to stretch and walk regularly.

Use a rolled-up towel

A rolled-up towel can be a handy tool for back pain relief. Try putting it under your pelvis when you’re lying down. Let your hips relax over the towel and help stretch out the tension in your lower back.

Try heat and cold therapy

Heat can help to ease your lower back pain. Moist heat -- baths, showers, and hot packs -- tends to work the best. But you can try an electric heating pad, as well. Apply it to your sore back for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Set a timer so you don’t fall asleep with it on. Always set the pad on low or medium -- never high. It can cause serious burns.

There isn’t a lot of proof that ice will ease your symptoms, but some people say it helps. Want to see if it’ll work for you? Apply ice to your lower back at least three times a day -- in the morning, after work or school, and then again before bedtime. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel to protect your skin. Don’t leave it on longer than 15-20 minutes at a time.

Adjust your sleep posture

Making slight changes in your sleeping posture can help reduce lower back pain. Here are some suggestions for adjustments based on your sleeping position:

  • Side sleepers: Pull your legs up toward your chest and put a pillow between your knees. This can help align your spine, pelvis, and hips, which may take pressure off your spine and ease your pain.
  • Back sleepers: Put a pillow under your knees and one under your neck. Make sure your neck pillow keeps your neck in alignment with your chest and back. This helps relax your back muscles and keeps your lower back curved. If you need to, you can also put a rolled towel under your waist for more support.
  • Stomach sleepers: If possible, sleep on your back or your side because sleeping on your stomach puts a lot of strain on your back. If you must sleep on your stomach, you can help reduce the amount of strain on your back by putting a pillow under your hips and lower belly. Only use a head pillow if it doesn't put a strain on your back.

Stay hydrated

Dehydration may make your lower back pain worse because your body pulls fluids from your tissues, such as your spine, to keep the fluid that surrounds and cushions your brain doesn't go down. This can make your joints and the bones and cartilage in your back weaker and unable to support you as well. Try to drink at least 4-6 cups of water a day to keep your spine flexible and supportive.

Rethink your footwear

Shoes that don't fit well or have heels that are too high can change your walking patterns. This can cause stress and strain through your lower back and joints. Here's what you're looking for in your shoes:

  • Comfort. Uncomfortable shoes can cause poor body mechanics while you walk. This can cause stress or strain on your lower back and joints. Doctors suggest you look for an open or flat shoe that's not too hard or soft.
  • Low heels. Wearing high heels increases the curve in your lower back, which can cause back pain. Doctors suggest heels no higher than 1-2 inches.
  • Stability. If your shoes make you turn your ankles in or out to keep yourself stable, it can cause poor foot alignment. This can increase your risk of lower back pain. Also, make sure your shoes give you a solid grip on the ground.

Foot doctors often suggest shoes with rocker bottoms, which may help you feel better if you have long-term lower back pain. You can also talk to a foot doctor about getting fitted for ergonomic shoes if you can't find shoes that are comfortable.

Quit smoking

Research suggests that if you smoke, you may be four times more likely than nonsmokers to have degenerative disk disease or other spine problems.

Nicotine in cigarettes and other tobacco products can weaken your spinal bones and take away vital nutrients from the spongy disks that cushion your joints. A healthy spine keeps your back flexible and its muscles from getting stiff and sore.

How to fix lower back strain caused by lifting

To avoid hurting your lower back while you're lifting, lift with your legs not your back. And don't twist your torso while you're lifting. Hold heavy items close to your body when you're carrying them.

Yes, if you're carrying a bit of extra weight, your doctor will likely suggest you lose some weight as a way to help manage your back pain in the long-term. Carrying extra body weight can put pressure on the bones and cartilage in your lower back, which can cause lower back pain or make it worse. And research suggests that losing weight may help your back feel better and improve your quality of life.

Exercises that stretch and strengthen your stomach, hips, and back muscles can help prevent low back pain. Studies show that people who stay active despite lower back pain are more flexible than those who play it safe and stay in bed for a week. Try to keep up with your usual level of daily activity and movement. It can be a brisk 30-minute walk or circling the block with your dog. Aim to get on your feet at least three times a week.

Exercises that both strengthen and stretch your body help the most. In addition to walking, you might want to swim, ride a stationary bike, or try low-impact aerobics. Strong muscles, especially in your abdominal core, help support your back. Strength and flexibility may help both relieve your pain and prevent it.

Research shows that yoga and stretching can ease pain and improve back movement. Scientists divided 228 people who’d had moderate pain for at least 3 months into three groups. Two groups took a 75-minute yoga or stretching class once a week for 12 weeks. The third group got a book of exercises and lifestyle changes they could make to ease their discomfort.

After 3 months, those who did yoga or intensive stretching fared better than those who didn’t. A full 6 months later, they took less medicine for their back pain. They also said their pain was better or completely gone during follow-up appointments.

Yoga, Pilates, and tai chi are just a few of the ways to strengthen your core and the muscles around your hips. One exercise that targets your entire upper and lower back is to lie on your tummy and lift up your legs and arms in the flying position.

While exercise is one of the best things you can do to relieve back pain, it shouldn’t hurt or make your pain worse. If so, check in with your doctor or physical therapist to make sure you’re doing the right exercise for you.

Here are some other exercises and stretches that doctors recommend to help prevent low back pain:

Pelvic tilts

Lie on your back with your knees bent. Put your heels on the floor and rest your weight on them. Press the small of your back against the floor and contract your abdominal muscles to raise your butt about half an inch off the floor. Hold for a count of 10 and repeat 20 times.

Abdominal curls

Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Cross your hands across your chest. Contract your abdominal muscles to slowly raise your shoulders about 10 inches off the floor. Keep your head up so your chin doesn't touch your chest. Release back down and lower your shoulders. Do 3 sets of 10 curls.

Knee-to-chest stretch

Lie on your back and place both hands behind one knee. Slowly bring it to your chest. Hold for a count of 10. Then slowly lower that leg and repeat with the other leg. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

Sitting leg stretch

Sit on the floor with your legs straight but without your knees locked. Hold your legs as far apart as you can comfortably hold them. Put both hands on one of your knees, then slowly slide toward the ankle. Stop if you feel any pain and don't push yourself farther than you can comfortably hold the position for a count of 10. Return to sitting position. Repeat on the other leg. Repeat 10 times on each leg.

You can find additional exercises for lower back pain in our article: Best Exercises for Lower Back Pain .

If your lower back pain doesn't go away with rest and pain relievers you may have a serious condition. Go see your doctor if you have lower back pain and any of the following:

  • Pain that doesn't get better after a week of at-home care
  • Tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain in your butt or legs
  • Problems peeing or pooping
  • Feeling lightheaded or fainting
  • Fever, weight loss, or any other unexplained symptoms
  • Severe pain, especially in your belly, or muscle spasms that make it hard to do your normal activities
  • Severe pain at night
  • History of cancer
  • You're over 55 and there's no obvious cause for your pain, such as an injury
  • You have an increased risk of infection because you're taking a medicine that suppresses your immune system, you have HIV or AIDS, or you had surgery or an injury

Lower back pain is very common; most of us will have it at some point in our lives. Several things can cause it, but the most common cause is muscle strains or ligament sprains in your back. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to help relieve your lower back pain, including taking an NSAID, using a medicated ointment, practicing good posture, doing spine and abdominal exercises and stretches, or getting a massage. If these don't help, talk to your doctor; they may offer other options to help manage your pain, such as going to see a physical therapist, losing a bit of weight, or quitting smoking.