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Acute Low Back Pain


Acute low back pain is discomfort in your lower back area that lasts for less than 12 weeks. The word acute is used to describe pain that starts suddenly, worsens quickly, and lasts for a short time.



The following medicines may be ordered by your healthcare provider:

  • Pain medicine: You may be given medicine to take away or decrease pain. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you take your medicine.

  • Muscle relaxers help decrease pain and muscle spasms.

  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

  • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease redness, pain, and swelling.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.


  • Exercise: Gentle exercise may help decrease your pain. Start with some light exercises such as walking, biking, or swimming during the first 2 weeks. Ask for more information about the activities or exercises that are right for you.

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Ask for support or more information if you need help losing weight.

  • Sleep on a firm mattress: If you do not have a firm mattress, have someone move your mattress to the floor for a few days. Do not move the mattress onto the floor yourself as you will risk further injury. A piece of plywood or bed board under your mattress can also help make it firmer.

  • Ice: Ice helps decrease swelling, pain, and muscle spams. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel. Place it on your lower back for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours. Do this for about 2 to 3 days after your pain starts, or as directed.

  • Heat: Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Start to use heat after treatment with ice has stopped. Use a small towel dampened with warm water or a heating pad, or sit in a warm bath. Apply heat on the area for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Alternate heat and ice.

Physical therapy:

A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Return for a follow-up visit if you still have pain after 1 to 3 weeks of treatment. You may need to visit an orthopedist if your back pain lasts more than 6 to 12 weeks. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You have pain at night or when you rest.

  • Your pain does not get better with treatment.

  • You have pain that worsens when you cough, sneeze, or strain your back.

  • You suddenly feel something pop or snap in your back.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have severe pain.

  • You have sudden stiffness and heaviness on both buttocks down to both legs.

  • You have numbness or weakness in one leg, or pain in both legs.

  • You have numbness in your genital area or across your lower back.

  • You cannot control your urine or bowel movements.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Learn more about Acute Low Back Pain (Aftercare Instructions)