Pang! Suddenly, your back hurts. Your first thought? Lie down and rest. Take pain medication.
This may have been a common way to treat back pain in the past, but new guidelines of care, developed by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, encourage otherwise.
Physical activity and a reduced reliance on pain medication are key in managing low back pain that’s not serious (which is rare by the way, and accounts for less than 5% of cases).
Most people will experience a degree of back pain in their lifetime. It’s the second most common reason people go to their doctor and 1 of the top 5 reasons people go to a hospital’s emergency department.
Low back pain usually lasts a few weeks with the right strategies in place. Learn about ways to manage low back pain yourself.
Check in with a doctor
When you see a doctor about low back pain, they’ll ask you questions to understand how they can help you. The goal is to develop a recovery plan you can manage yourself.
First, the doctor will rule out serious health issues. If needed, they’ll send you for tests. But only 5% of cases account for these types of problems, such as compression of the nerves in the spine.
See your healthcare professional if your pain isn’t getting better or if new symptoms appear. If you have problems controlling urine or bowel movements, or numbness or weakness in your legs, back or genitals, this is a medical emergency, and you should seek medical attention urgently.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
The best way you can treat most back pain is to stay active and carry on with your normal activities.
Avoid lying down for lengthy periods. Instead, choose a physical activity that you’re comfortable with, such as swimming or walking. Start off slowly and gradually build up the intensity and length of time.
When you’re sitting or standing, keep your posture relaxed. Break up these periods with movement.
Stay positive and remain social
Never underestimate the power of a positive mindset on pain. While back pain can be distressing, positive emotions and thoughts can lead to a better recovery.
Find ways to distract yourself, so that your thoughts aren’t fixated on the pain. Stay occupied with the help of work, friends or family.
Focusing on a good night's sleep will benefit your recovery. Practise habits that make it easier to sleep such as avoiding screen time, caffeine or strenuous exercise just before you hit the pillow. Get more than 7 hours sleep a night.
Rethink pain medication
Use pain medication only to keep moving and not to stop the pain altogether. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist about options for you, if needed.
Keep your pain manageable. Try applying heat to the area if the pain flares up.
WORRIED ABOUT YOUR OPIOID USE? — The Opioid Risk Indicator can help you find out if you may be developing a problem.