Living with back pain
Most back pain is not caused by any serious damage or disease. The pain usually improves within a few weeks, at least enough to allow you to get on with your life. Only a few people have back pain caused by a slipped disc or a trapped nerve. Even then, it usually gets better by itself. X-rays and MRI scans can detect serious spinal injuries which are very rare but they don't usually help in ordinary back pain.
If you have severe pain which gets worse over several weeks, or if you are unwell with back pain, you should see your GP. If you are experiencing constant pain the advice on dealing with an attack of back pain will not apply to your particular circumstances. We recommend that you consult your GP if you have not already done so.
If you have back pain and suddenly notice any of the following very rare symptoms you should see a doctor straight away:
- Difficulty passing or controlling urine
- Numbness around your back passage or genitals
- Numbness, pins and needles, or weakness in both legs
- Unsteadiness on your feet
Attack of back pain
What you do in the early stages of an attack of back pain is very important. Resting for more than a day or two does not usually help and may prolong the pain. Your back is designed for, and needs to be kept, moving. The sooner you restart your ordinary activities the sooner you will feel better.
Use simple methods to deal with the pain: over-the-counter pain killers such as paracetamol, or heat or cold applied to the sore area may help; or manipulation, if done by a qualified professional osteopath or chiropractor, can also help; you should begin to feel the benefit within a few sessions. It is not a good idea to have long term manipulation treatment.
We are not suggesting it will be easy to get your back moving when it is painful. Try to find activity that suits you and steadily increase your level of activity. Do a little bit more each day if the pain has been restricting your movement. Do not stay in one position for too long. Get up and stretch regularly. Move about and take some walks, building up your activity as you get stronger.
Back pain and work
Suffering from back pain does not mean you must automatically be off work. Inactivity and bed rest can increase the chance of disability so it is in your interest to remain active unless your doctor tells you not to.
There are things that your employer can do to help you stay in work or return to work, You can read about this on the Advice for employers pages of this website.
You can also learn more about what you can do to help yourself by reading the Advice for workers pages.
- The Back Book from TSO
- BackCare is an independent charity that helps people manage and prevent back pain
- NHS Choices is the online 'front door' to the NHS. It is the UK's biggest health website and gives all the information you need to make choices about your health.
- Safe lifting tips
Learning and following the correct method for lifting and handling heavy loads can help to prevent injury. Check out these safe lifting and handling tips.
- How to sit correctly
If you work in an office and use a computer, you can avoid injury by sitting in the right position and arranging your desk correctly. Follow these tips.
- Preventing back pain
The best ways to deal with pain and help your back to recover are to maintain your mobility and return to work as soon as possible.
- Manual handling at work: A brief guide
- Managing upper limb disorders in the workplace
- Manual handling assessment charts
- Risk assessment of pushing and pulling (RAPP) tool
- Making the best use of lifting and handling aids