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WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
Back pain is common. It can be caused by many conditions, such as arthritis or the breakdown of spinal discs. Your risk for back pain is increased by injuries, lack of activity, or repeated bending and twisting. You may feel sore or stiff on one or both sides of your back. The pain may spread to your buttocks or thighs.
Return to the emergency department if:
- You have pain, numbness, or weakness in one or both legs.
- Your pain becomes so severe that you cannot walk.
- You cannot control your urine or bowel movements.
- You have severe back pain with chest pain.
- You have severe back pain, nausea, and vomiting.
- You have severe back pain that spreads to your side or genital area.
Contact your healthcare provider if:
- You have back pain that does not get better with rest and pain medicine.
- You have a fever.
- You have pain that worsens when you are on your back or when you rest.
- You have pain that worsens when you cough or sneeze.
- You lose weight without trying.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.
- 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.
- 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 help decrease muscle spasms and back pain.
- 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.
- Take your medicine as directed. Contact your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him or her 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.
How to manage your back pain:
- 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 pain.
- 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.
- Stay active as much as you can without causing more pain. Bed rest could make your back pain worse. Avoid heavy lifting until your pain is gone.
- Go to physical therapy as directed. A physical therapist can teach you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.
Follow up with your healthcare provider in 2 weeks, or as directed:
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.