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Acute Low Back Pain


Acute low back pain is sudden discomfort in your lower back area that lasts for up to 6 weeks. The discomfort makes it difficult to tolerate activity.


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.

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 or sneeze.
  • You suddenly feel something pop or snap in your back.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


The following medicines may be ordered by your healthcare provider:

  • Acetaminophen decreases pain. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain. 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.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.
  • Muscle relaxers decrease pain by relaxing the muscles in your lower spine.
  • 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.


  • Stay active as much as you can without causing more pain. Bed rest could make your back pain worse. Start with some light exercises such as walking. Avoid heavy lifting until your pain is gone. Ask for more information about the activities or exercises that are right for you.
  • 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 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.

Prevent acute low back pain:

  • Use proper body mechanics.
    • Bend at the hips and knees when you pick up objects. Do not bend from the waist. Use your leg muscles as you lift the load. Do not use your back. Keep the object close to your chest as you lift it. Try not to twist or lift anything above your waist.
    • Change your position often when you stand for long periods of time. Rest one foot on a small box or footrest, and then switch to the other foot often.
    • Try not to sit for long periods of time. When you do, sit in a straight-backed chair with your feet flat on the floor. Never reach, pull, or push while you are sitting.
  • Do exercises that strengthen your back muscles. Warm up before you exercise. Ask your healthcare provider the best exercises for you.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. Ask him to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.

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 12 weeks. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.