How to manage back pain

Back pain may be common, but like any other type of pain it can have a real impact on your quality of life. Thankfully the pain isn’t usually a sign of anything serious, and according to the NHS it normally improves within a few weeks or months.

If you have back pain, the most common type is lower back pain (lumbago), though it can be felt anywhere from the neck down to the hips. In many cases it’s impossible to identify what’s causing it – this is what doctors call non-specific back pain. In other cases, however, it can be caused by…

  • Injury (eg sprain or strain)
  • Slipped disk
  • Sciatica (irritation of the sciatic nerve)

You shouldn’t normally need to see your GP about back pain, but there are some things you can do yourself to relieve the discomfort it may be causing.

Stay physically active – You may not feel like exercising when your back is sore, but staying active is thought to be one of the most important things you should do to help your back muscles recover. Years ago doctors used to prescribe bed rest for back pain, but these days they know that resting for long periods is more likely to make the pain worse than do you any good.

Try doing some gentle activity such as walking, swimming or yoga, as well as some specific exercises and stretches for back pain. For information on lower back pain exercises and stretches, visit NHS Choices.

Treat pain – If you need pain relief, your local Careway pharmacist can recommend an anti-inflammatory painkiller such as ibuprofen. These medicines aren’t suitable for everyone, so remember to tell your pharmacist if you’re taking any other medication or if you have a medical condition.

Try natural relief – Painkillers aren’t the only way to treat pain. If you prefer to try a drug-free remedy – or if you want to boost the effect of painkillers – your pharmacist can also provide you with hot and cold compression packs for short-term relief. Alternatively you could apply a hot water bottle to the area of pain, or a bag of ice or frozen peas wrapped in a clean cloth or tea towel.

Stay positive – According to the NHS you may be more likely to recover faster if you remain optimistic and recognise that your pain will get better.

Can you prevent back pain?

While it’s difficult to prevent having back pain altogether, there are some things that could make your risk smaller, including the following:

  • Try to move more and avoid sitting for too long (if you have a sedentary job, for instance, set a timer to remind you to stand up and stretch at least once every hour).
  • Aim to adopt good posture when you’re sitting as it can help support your back. When at work, for instance, make sure your chair is at the right height (your wrists and forearms should be straight and level with the floor, your knees should be slightly lower than your hips and your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest). Also try to make sure your chair is properly adjusted to support your lower back properly.
  • Keep your back strong by doing regular exercise (we should all be doing at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week).
  • Check your weight, as being overweight can make back pain more likely. Ask your local Careway pharmacist for advice on weight management and visit our Weight loss page for regular updates.
  • If you need to lift heavy objects, make sure you know how to lift safely (avoid twisting or bending your back, try lifting from a squatting position).

If your back pain hasn’t improved within a few weeks it may be a good idea to see your GP for more advice. You should also see your GP if the pain is very severe or starts getting worse, or if it stops you doing your day-to-day activities.

For lots more advice, have a chat with your local Careway pharmacist (find your nearest Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder).