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Treating back pain

Keep moving

In the past, it was thought the best cure for back pain was to rest. We now know that rest can be harmful as it allows your muscles to weaken, therefore delaying recovery. Staying mobile and keeping active is important for your recovery. Try not to let back pain interfere with your daily routine too much and return to work as soon as possible.

Could some part of your daily routine be causing or at least aggravating your back pain? Explore the 'preventing back pain' area of this guide for ideas and advice on the best ways of sitting, lifting and driving so that your back is protected. There is also advice on using computers.


If back pain is so severe that it begins interfering with your daily activities, medication could be the next step. It is recommended that you first try over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol. If that doesn't provide sufficient relief, try ibuprofen. In either case, make sure you are taking the painkillers as regularly as the dosage information recommends.

Don't wait until your back pain is very bad. If you want any further advice on this, speak to your GP or pharmacist.

Manual therapy

Manual therapy is designed to provide physical relief for your symptoms and can be performed by a number of different types of practitioners. Perhaps the best-known example is a physiotherapist.

There are many people offering back pain treatment and if you choose to arrange manual therapy yourself, there are a number of questions you should ask. Here is what the charity BackCare recommends you consider:

·         Is there any scientific evidence that the treatment is effective and safe?

·         Who will perform the treatment? Are they qualified or registered with a regulatory body?

·         What are the possible benefits, risks and costs?

·         Is the treatment appropriate for your condition and circumstances?

·         Can you get information and advice on this type of treatment from multiple sources?

·         Can you speak to anyone who has tried this type of treatment?

Your GP may refer you for some manual therapy, which will begin with an examination to see if there are joints that can be freed up. This can be done with a gentle massage, mobilisation or manipulation. Your GP, or the practitioner they might refer you to, will be able to advise on stretching routines or exercises you should be doing to keep your back muscles strong.

Hot or cold packs

Some back pain sufferers find relief by applying hot or cold packs to the affected area. If you think your back pain is the result of a sprain or a tear, try a hot pack first. If you think the pain is the result of an inflammation, a cold pack may be better.

Hot and cold packs can be bought from pharmacies and can be left in the freezer until required. Many can also be heated in the microwave; depending on the type of relief you require. (Always follow manufacturer's instructions). Failing that, a bag of frozen peas or a hot water bottle will do the same job. It is not advisable to apply a hot or cold pack directly to the area, instead, make sure it is wrapped in a thin piece of towel.


If you are in the middle of experiencing an episode of back pain, some gentle stretches can help ease any discomfort and will help strengthen the muscles in your back.

Strengthening the muscles in your back will help protect it from further problems. It is for this reason that stretching should become part of your daily routine if you suffer or have suffered from back pain in the past.

As well as stretching, research shows that exercise can be effective in reducing back pain. If back pain has become a recurring problem, exercising regularly will improve the strength of your back muscles and will become an important part of your coping strategy.

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