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Back pain - What treatments work for back pain?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

Back pain can make you feel miserable, but it usually gets better on its own. And there are a range of treatments that can help relieve the pain and keep you moving. Your doctor may offer you a combination of these treatments.

We've divided the treatments into those for back pain that lasts for 12 weeks or less (acute or short-term back pain) and pain that goes on for longer than 12 weeks (chronic or long-term back pain).

Key points about treating back pain

  • Doctors usually advise people with back pain to stay as active as possible. Resting in bed can actually make your pain worse.

  • Exercise can help people with long-term back pain. It's not clear whether it helps in the short term. It might be that it takes a while for exercises to improve the strength of your back.

  • Painkillers can help reduce back pain. Your doctor may recommend paracetamol, or painkillers that also help reduce inflammation, like ibuprofen.

  • Drugs that relax your muscles may also help with back pain. Unfortunately, they can cause unpleasant side effects like drowsiness or dizziness, and you can only take them for a short time.

  • Having your spine manipulated by a trained therapist may help in the short term, but we don't know whether it helps with long-term back pain. There are also some rare but serious side effects to manipulation. There's a small chance this treatment could damage nerves or blood vessels in your spine.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has published guidelines about what treatments people should be offered for low back pain. See for more information.

Treatments for back pain

What treatments work for back pain? We've weighed up the evidence and looked at which treatments work best. The treatment you need may depend on whether you have short-term or long-term back pain.

  • Treatments for short-term back pain: By short-term pain, we mean pain that's lasted for 12 weeks or less. More...

  • Treatments for long-term back pain: By long-term pain, we mean pain that's lasted for more than 12 weeks. More...

What treatments work for short-term back pain?

When we talk about short-term back pain, we mean pain that lasts for 12 weeks or less. Doctors sometimes call this acute back pain. Treatment can help with the pain, and may help stop your back pain becoming a long-term problem. We've also looked at treatments for long-term back pain.

Key points about treating short-term back pain

  • Staying in bed doesn't help if you have back pain. It won't make you any better, and could be harmful. Stay as active as you can.

  • Drugs called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen) can relieve back pain. But they can have side effects.

  • Having your spine manipulated by a trained therapist can also work. It may help you get back to work. But in rare cases, manipulation can cause serious side effects by damaging blood vessels in your spine.

  • There are lots of other treatments that haven't been properly tested. So we don't know if they work. They include acupuncture, back supports, steroid injections, massage, ice packs, and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation).

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Last Updated: August 15, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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