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Acute Low Back Pain


Acute low back pain

is sudden discomfort that lasts up to 6 weeks and makes activity difficult.

Common symptoms include the following:

  • Back stiffness or spasms
  • Pain down the back or side of one leg
  • Holding yourself in an unusual position or posture to decrease your back pain
  • Not being able to find a sitting position that is comfortable
  • Slow increase in your pain for 24 to 48 hours after you stress your back
  • Tenderness on your lower back or severe pain when you move your back

Seek care immediately 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.

Call your doctor 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 goal of treatment for acute low back pain

is to relieve your pain and help you be able to do your regular activities. Most people with acute lower back pain get better within 4 to 6 weeks. You may need any of the following:

  • NSAIDs , such as ibuprofen, help decrease swelling, pain, and 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.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly. Do not use more than 4 grams (4,000 milligrams) total of acetaminophen in one day.
  • Muscle relaxers decrease pain by relaxing the muscles in your lower spine.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely. Some prescription pain medicines contain acetaminophen. Do not take other medicines that contain acetaminophen without talking to your healthcare provider. Too much acetaminophen may cause liver damage. Prescription pain medicine may cause constipation. Ask your healthcare provider how to prevent or treat constipation.

Manage your symptoms:

  • 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.
    Diverse Family Walking for Exercise
  • Apply heat on your back for 20 to 30 minutes every 2 hours for as many days as directed. Heat helps decrease pain and muscle spasms. Alternate heat and ice.
  • Apply ice on your back for 15 to 20 minutes every hour or as directed. Use an ice pack, or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover it with a towel before you apply it to your skin. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases swelling and pain.

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 what a healthy weight is for you. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.

Follow up with your doctor 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 longer than 12 weeks. Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 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 CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.