Skip to Content

Chronic Back Pain

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is chronic back pain?

Chronic back pain is back pain that lasts 3 months or longer. This may include pain that has not been controlled or does not improve with treatment. Your back pain may cause weakness or pain that spreads to your arms or legs.

What causes or increases my risk for chronic 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:

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

How is chronic back pain diagnosed?

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

How is chronic 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 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.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • 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. Ask your healthcare provider what exercises are right for you. Do not sit or lie down for long periods. This 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.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have severe pain.
  • You have new signs of numbness, tingling, or weakness, especially in your lower back, legs, arms, or genital area.
  • You lose control of your bladder or bowel movements.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever or sudden weight loss.
  • You have new or worse pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

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.

© 2017 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.

Hide