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Back pain self-care

If you have back pain, there are several ways you can manage the condition yourself. They include the following:

Keep moving

  • Avoid prolonged bed rest – people who remain active are likely to recover more quickly.
  • Try to move around as soon as you are able and aim to do a little more each day. Activity can range from walking around the house to walking to the shops. You will have to accept some discomfort but avoid anything that causes a lot of pain.
  • Gradual, gentle stretching exercises should be done before any activity.
  • Avoid heavy lifting and movements such as punching or pulling. You should also avoid repetitive bending and twisting.

Hot and cold treatments

  • Heat - for example a hot bath, heat wraps or a hot water bottle placed on the affected area - can help ease the pain.
  • Cold - such as an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas applied to the painful area - can also be effective. Don't put the ice directly on your skin since it might cause a cold burn. Wrap the frozen pack in a wet cloth before applying it to the affected area.
  • Another option is to alternate between hot and cold using ice packs and hot compression packs. Hot compression packs can be bought at most larger pharmacies.

If you are experiencing any numbness, however, do not apply any heat or cold - including heat or ice packs - to the area.

Sleeping position

By changing your sleeping position, you can take some of the strain off your back and ease the pain:

  • If you sleep on your side, draw your legs up slightly towards your chest and put a pillow between your legs.
  • If you sleep on your back, placing a pillow under your knees will help maintain the normal curve of your lower back.


Trying to relax is a crucial part of easing back pain since muscle tension caused by worrying about your condition can make things worse. Research suggests that people who manage to stay positive despite the pain tend to recover faster and avoid long-term back pain.

At work

  • If your job involves sitting down for long periods, try using a chair with lumbar support. You can make your own lumbar support using a rolled up towel or pillow which should be placed in the small (curve) of the lower back.
  • Your seat should not press on the back of your thighs or knees.
  • Avoid wearing high-heeled shoes if standing for long periods of time. When standing, rest one foot on a small box or stool from time to time.
  • Avoid bending over continuously when working.
  • If performing repetitive tasks, take frequent short breaks to stretch or relax, even if it's only for 30 seconds every 10-15 minutes.

When to see a doctor

In some cases, it is better for you to see a doctor for advice and help:

  • If you are in pain, get advice on medicines you can take.
  • If your back pain lasts for more than 6 weeks, you should make an appointment to see your doctor.
  • You should also see your doctor if you develop numbness or pain in the buttocks, leg or foot.
  • See your doctor urgently or go to the emergency department if you lose control of your bladder or bowels.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your cold or flu, why not use healthdirect's online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it's self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: October 2017

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