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Back Pain


What should I know about back pain?

Back pain is common. You may feel sore or stiff on one or both sides of your back. The pain may spread to your buttocks or thighs.

What causes or increases my risk for back pain?

Conditions that affect the spine, joints, or muscles can cause back pain. These may include arthritis, spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal column), muscle tension, or breakdown of the spinal discs. The following increase your risk of back pain:

  • Repeated bending, lifting, or twisting, or lifting heavy items
  • Injury from a fall or accident
  • Lack of regular physical activity
  • Obesity, pregnancy
  • Smoking
  • Aging
  • Driving, sitting, or standing for long periods
  • Bad posture while sitting or standing

How is back pain diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask if you have any medical conditions. He may ask if you have a history of back pain and how it started. He may watch you stand and walk, and check your range of motion. Show him where you feel pain and what makes it better or worse. Describe the pain, how bad it is, and how long it lasts. Tell him if your pain worsens at night or when you lie on your back.

How is back pain treated?

  • 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 caregiver if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.
  • 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.
  • Prescription pain medicine may be given. Ask your healthcare provider how to take this medicine safely.

How do I manage my back pain?

  • Apply ice on your back or affected area 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. Ice helps prevent tissue damage and decreases pain.
  • Apply heat on your back or affected area 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.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

When should I seek care immediately?

  • 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.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

© 2015 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.