Back pain is a common complaint for adults. It’s estimated that as many as 80% of adults in the U.S. will experience back pain at some point.
Back pain is often caused by everyday activities, excess body weight, poor posture, or injuries. It can even be caused by too much stress or other psychological problems. The pain can range from a mild ache to disruptive, shooting pains.
Most of the time, back pain gets better without medical intervention in a few days or a few weeks. You should see a doctor if your pain doesn’t get better or is severe.
For milder pain and discomfort, you can take steps at home to ease your discomfort and prevent it from returning.
How to fix back pain at home
Everybody’s pain experience is different, and what works for one person may not work for another. You may need to try a combination of techniques to relieve your pain.
1. Ice and heat
Ice packs are best used on new pain when there may be swelling or inflammation from the injury. Cold can decrease inflammation and provide some pain relief.
Heat can also be soothing. Some people find the dry heat of a heating pad helps, while others prefer moist heat like a hot bath or shower. Do whichever feels best to you.
2. Over-the-counter pain medications
Over-the-counter medications can reduce inflammation and ease the pain. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen reduce inflammation and pain, while acetaminophen (Tylenol) only works on the pain.
3. Medicated massage
Medicated creams or ointments can provide some relief for a stiff, sore back. Asking a partner to apply it with a gentle massage can also soothe sore muscles.
4. Stress management
Tension in the back, shoulders, and neck is a common response to stress. Managing your stress in healthy ways can reduce and prevent tight, sore muscles. Stress management techniques like meditation, deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, guided imagery, and aromatherapy are easy to learn and use.
5. Posture improvement
When poor posture becomes a habit it can cause chronic back pain, especially if you sit for long periods for work. Hunching over at your desk, leaning forward to see your screen, or reaching for the keyboard and mouse can put a strain on your back.
You can prevent back pain by sitting with your knees at a 90-degree angle, feet flat on the floor, monitor at eye level, and head, shoulders, and hips aligned.
6. Continued movement
It’s tempting to rest in bed with back pain, but bedrest often has the opposite of the intended effect. Lying in bed weakens the back muscles that support the spine, ultimately leading to more pain.
If you can, try to maintain your normal activity level. If not, try to get on your feet and go for a walk several times a week.
7. Stretching and strengthening
Strong, healthy muscles, especially a strong core, support and protect your back. If you’re in pain, gentle stretching or yoga can help relax sore muscles. Making a habit of yoga, tai chi, or stretching has long-lasting benefits for your back and entire body.
Choose stretches or exercises to target different areas of your back to keep your muscles strong and healthy. Try core strengthening exercises like the ones included in the McGill Big 3 routine.
Exercises don’t have to be complicated or require any special equipment. For more videos with expert instruction, visit our Patient Exercises page.
When to see a doctor
Back pain may be a common complaint, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to treat. Pain can linger and affect your daily activities, keeping you from the things you enjoy.
Don’t suffer with pain that lingers, gets worse, or comes with numbness in your arms or legs, tingling, or weakness. Schedule an appointment today!