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Lower Back Pain Treatment Overview

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Treating lower back pain

Mild to moderate lower back pain is likely to get better on its own within about 4 weeks. Do your best to stay active (rather than lying in bed), and try a combination of home treatments like ice and heat, OTC anti-inflammatory drugs, and gentle stretches to relieve the pain. If treatments aren’t helping or pain is getting worse after about 4 weeks, see a healthcare provider.

For any back pain that is more chronic, lasting longer than 4–6 weeks, you still want to stay active with daily exercise and activities, and take OTC medications as needed.

But if treating yourself is not helping and you are having difficulty doing everyday activities, see a healthcare provider. They can help diagnose the cause of your back pain, and also provide prescription pain relievers, muscle relaxants, certain antidepressants that help treat pain, or other medications.

If you have chronic pain, you should also consider cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to help you manage the stress of living with long-term pain and discomfort.

If you have severe back pain, you may need to rest for a day or so after an injury.

If you have any of these symptoms, get immediate medical care:

  • New worsening back pain and you’re older than 60
  • Fever
  • Weakness in your leg
  • Loss of control of your bowel or bladder or not able to urinate
  • Numbness or tingling in your lower extremities (hip and below)
  • Prior diagnosis of cancer
  • Trauma in the past 48 hours (car accident or a fall)

Medical tests & labs

Imaging such as X-rays, CT scans, and MRIs may be recommended if your back pain is not improving after 6–8 weeks and there are other worrisome symptoms. Most people with low back pain do not need these tests.

Depending on the results, a doctor will discuss what medications you should try and other ways to treat the problem.

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