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HealthInfo Waitaha Canterbury

Self-care for low back pain

Ngā mea e oti i a koe e āwhina ai i te mamae ā-tuarā

Most low back pain gets better with self-care. But at times you may need to get help from a health professional. If your pain doesn't start to improve in two weeks, gets worse or you have any concerns, seek advice from your GP, physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor.

Although it's rare, back pain can be a sign of something serious.

Important

See your health professional immediately if you have:

Stay active

One of the best things you can do to help your back pain get better is to keep doing your normal activity as much as possible. Walking, cycling and swimming can help.

You may have some minor discomfort as you try to keep active but do what you can without causing any significant pain or discomfort. If you notice an increase in pain, stop doing the activity straight away.

Bend backwards rather than forwards

  • Decreasing the amount of bending forward you do and instead doing backwards-bending exercises can help a lot.
  • While lying on your front, do 10 back bends every one to two hours. You may be able to do this exercise while standing but ask your health professional first.

 

 

 

back bend standing

back bend lying

Change what you're doing

One of the main ways you can help your back pain is to change what you're doing whenever you notice the pain. Give your usual activities a try but if they bring on or worsen your pain, either work out another way of doing it that doesn't hurt or stop and try again later.

Pay attention to your posture

Watch how you're sitting

  • Good sitting posture is important. Put a cushion or folded towel (or lumbar roll) in the small of your back when you're sitting.
  • If you sit at work, make sure your chair is adjusted properly to support the small of your back.
  • Make sure your feet are flat on the floor or a footstool and your chair points straight at your desk or screen.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods. Stand up every 30 minutes and walk around for a few minutes.

Be careful lifting

  • Try to avoid any bending or lifting until your episode of back pain is over.
  • If you do have to lift something, point your feet towards the thing you're lifting, bend at your knees and hips. Keep items close to you while you're lifting and carrying.

lifting

Pain medication

As well as exercise and watching your posture, you may want some pain relief. If so, take it regularly, as that is more likely to ease the pain enough to let you exercise and stay active. Pain relief will not completely take the pain away, but it may take the edge off it.

As non-specific low back pain is mechanical, you may find medication doesn't help at all. If so, it doesn't mean you have a serious condition and need stronger medication.

If you feel that pain relief medicines aren't helping, talk to your GP about other options, including seeing a physiotherapist, chiropractor or osteopath for manual therapy.

Sleep

Sleep in any way that is comfortable on the most comfortable surface, as long as it's flat and not sagging. We used to advise people to sleep on a firm mattress but there is no evidence that this is better than any other type of mattress.

Some people find that a small, firm pillow between their knees, or a folded towel under the small of their back makes them more comfortable when sleeping.

Work

Get back to work as soon as possible – you do not need to wait for the pain to go away. Returning to work (or staying at work if you can) generally helps to reduce your pain by keeping you active.

If you're worried about your work, talk to your employer and treatment provider about what you can and cannot do. Some people need to gradually ease back into their usual work tasks, perhaps doing fewer hours and not doing physical tasks like heavy lifting or twisting.

ACC can also help you get back to work if you're having problems returning to your normal duties.

Next steps

If you do all the things mentioned above, your back pain should start feeling better within a few weeks, even if it doesn't go away completely. If it has not started getting better or if your pain is getting worse, you should see a doctor, chiropractor, osteopath or physiotherapist.

On the next page: Getting help for low back pain

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed May 2022.

Sources

Page reference: 349010

Review key: HILBP-103167