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BACK PAIN [acute or chronic]

Back pain is usually caused by an injury to the muscles or ligaments of the spine. Sometimes the disks that separate each bone in the spine may bulge and cause pain by pressing on a nearby nerve. Back pain may also appear after a sudden twisting/bending force (such as in a car accident), after a simple awkward movement, or lifting something heavy with poor body positioning. In either case, muscle spasm is often present and adds to the pain.

Acute back pain usually gets better in one to two weeks. Back pain related to disk disease, arthritis in the spinal joints or spinal stenosis (narrowing of the spinal canal) can become chronic and last for months or years.

Unless you had a physical injury (for example, a car accident or fall) X-rays are usually not ordered for the initial evaluation of back pain. If pain continues and does not respond to medical treatment, x-rays and other tests may be performed at a later time.


  1. You may need to stay in bed the first few days. But, as soon as possible, begin sitting or walking to avoid problems with prolonged bed rest (muscle weakness, worsening back stiffness and pain, blood clots in the legs).

  2. When in bed, try to find a position of comfort. A firm mattress is best. Try lying flat on your back with pillows under your knees. You can also try lying on your side with your knees bent up towards your chest and a pillow between your knees.

  3. Avoid prolonged sitting. This puts more stress on the lower back than standing or walking.

  4. During the first two days after injury, apply an ICE PACK to the painful area for 20 minutes every 2-4 hours. This will reduce swelling and pain. HEAT (hot shower, hot bath or heating pad) works well for muscle spasm. You can start with ice, then switch to heat after two days. Some patients feel best alternating ice and heat treatments. Use the one method that feels the best to you.

  5. You may use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. [NOTE: If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.]

  6. Be aware of safe lifting methods and do not lift anything over 15 pounds until all the pain is gone.

FOLLOW UP with your doctor or this facility if your symptoms do not start to improve after one week. Physical therapy may be needed.

[NOTE: If X-rays were taken, they will be reviewed by a radiologist. You will be notified of any new findings that may affect your care.]

GET PROMPT MEDICAL ATTENTION if any of the following occur:

  • Pain becomes worse or spreads to your legs

  • Weakness or numbness in one or both legs

  • Loss of bowel or bladder control

  • Numbness in the groin or genital area


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