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First Aid for your Back

If you experience back pain, there are several ways you can help yourself heal from the episode. Exactly what you do will depend largely on how badly your back is hurting.

  1. Use ice, over the low back area that hurts. Apply ice for 15 minutes at a time, and repeat once an hour. You can use ice for several days, to weeks. After the first 72 hours, alternate heat for 15 minutes, nothing for 45 minutes, then ice for 15 minutes.
  2. Use an anti-inflammatory such as Ibuprofen, if allowed by your doctor. Aleve is another popular anti-inflammatory medication that can be used as directed. If you are not sure how, or if you should take any medication, call your primary care doctor and discuss it with him/her.
  3. Use a resting position to keep your spine in a neutral position. It may be necessary to use the side-lying position, as taught by your PT, or position yourself lying on your back, with your feet resting on a chair seat or stool. Use these positions intermittently, with standing and walking around for a few minutes at a time, for the first two days as needed.
  4. Use a proper sitting positioning, again, as taught by your PT. Remember to get the pelvis positioned in neutral. (Remember to  use  a rolled towel for support.)
  5. If your back is in spasm, you may need a muscle relaxant. You will need to call your primary doctor and discuss this with him/her.
  6. “Resting” for a day or two, alternating between positions detailed in question #3, and walking or standing may be helpful.  Complete bed rest is NOT helpful.
  7. AVOID SLUMPED SITTING. (Slouched posture with a rounded back.)
  8. If symptoms last more than two to three days, contact your primary care physician.
  9. Begin PAIN FREE gentle movement/stretching exercises as soon as possible. Even while your back is still hurting, you can experiment with gentle, slow, controlled movements to see if your back can tolerate the movement. If this increases pain, STOP. If it does not increase pain, you can continue and progress the exercises.

If pain is going down one or more leg, which is called sciatica, you may find that side-lying on the opposite side of the painful leg is most comfortable. Use pillows between your legs to further relieve the pain. Gently try to rotate your top shoulder backwards, to relieve pressure on the nerve root. If this increases the pain, do not rotate backwards.