Self-Care & Treatment for Back Pain

Self-Care & Treatment for Back Pain

Most experts in the field of spine agree that 80% to 90% of people with episodes of back pain will recover without medical assistance. So what can you do if you or a family member is experiencing a flare of back pain?

Keep moving and pace daily activities

Do not sit or stand for prolonged periods of time. Break up big activities into smaller tasks. Get help when needed.


Walking for short periods of time (5-10 minutes) several times throughout the day at a comfortable pace can help the healing process.

Cold Application

Cold application may relieve pain as well as reduce swelling and spasms. Cold application may be beneficial throughout recovery and during an acute flare-up of a chronic condition. A reusable gel pack, plastic bag filled with crushed ice or a bag of frozen vegetables can be used to apply cold.

Proper cold application should cause slight reddening of the skin with blanched out areas. The skin should be slightly numb to touch. Apply cold pack to the affected area 10 to 15 minutes several times per day.

If you find application of cold uncomfortable you may use moist heat (eg, hot water bottle or moist heating pad) for 10 minutes followed by a cold application for 10 to 15 minutes. Apply several times per day. Freezing water in a Styrofoam cup makes a great ice massager with an insulated “handle.” Simply cut the bottom of the cup away and start massaging. Have a towel available.


The goal of medication is to relieve symptoms, allowing for quick return to functional daily activities. When choosing a medication, contraindications, efficacy, complications/risks, cost, and patient compliance should be assessed.

If your symptoms are mild to moderate, over-the-counter (non-prescription) medicine such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or naproxen can be used as indicated. However, if you are taking any other medications, you should always seek the advice of your physician. Possible side affects of the non-steroidal medications (ibuprofen, naproxen) include stomach irritation, ulcers, or bleeding.

Bed Rest

Prolonged bed rest is NOT recommended. Brief bed rest (limited to less than 2 days) may be suggested for severe spinal pain. However, every few hours, be sure to get up and walk around-even if it hurts.

When to seek medical assistance

You should seek medical assistance if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden onset of neck or back pain following strenuous activity or injury
  • Neck or back pain symptoms present for 2 or more weeks without improvement
  • Pain, numbness, or tingling present in your arm or leg greater than 1-2 weeks
  • Severe pain interfering with activities of daily living.

You should see a doctor immediately or go to the nearest hospital emergency room if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • You have loss of bowel or bladder control
  • You have numbness in groin or rectal area
  • You begin to drag your leg or foot
  • You have severe weakness in your arm or leg