Simple painkillers such as paracetamol (an analgesic) may help. You should use them as and when you need them. It's important that you take them regularly and at the recommended dose, especially when you're having a flare-up of your back pain, but you shouldn't take them more often than every 4 hours up to a maximum of eight tablets in 24 hours.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
NSAIDs such as ibuprofen, which you can buy at chemists and supermarkets, can also help.
You can use painkillers and NSAIDs for a short course of treatment of about a week to 10 days. If they've not helped after this time then they're unlikely to. However, if they do help but the pain returns when you stop taking them you could try another short course.
You can also try rubbing anti-inflammatory creams or gels onto affected areas.
If these medications don't help, your GP may be able to prescribe other painkillers.
Exercise is the most important way that you can help yourself if you have back pain. Research shows that bed rest for more than a couple of days doesn’t help back pain and in the long term actually makes it worse as the muscles in your back become weak and you become less fit.
Exercise also releases endorphins – your body's natural painkillers.
Exercise might make your back feel a bit sore at first but it doesn’t cause any harm. Start off slowly and gradually increase the amount of exercise you do. You can also try taking some painkillers beforehand. Over time, your back will get stronger and more flexible and this should reduce pain.
Often people stop exercising once their back pain has cleared up, but it's best to keep up with the exercise to maintain strength and fitness as this will help to reduce the chances of your back pain returning.
Exercises that may help include:
- yoga or Pilates
- going to the gym.
You can also download a selection of exercises that are designed to stretch, strengthen and stabilise the structures that support your back. They may not be suitable for all types of back pain, so it’s a good idea to get advice from your doctor or physiotherapist about specific exercises before you begin. It’s also important to keep exercising even once your back pain has cleared up.
Try our simple exercises for back pain.
Try to maintain good posture when sitting at home, at work or in the car. Staying in awkward positions while working or driving, for example, will affect the soft tissues in your back and will increase your pain or slow down your recovery.
There are many different complementary and herbal remedies that are believed to help with pain relief, and some people do feel better when they use a complementary medicine. However, on the whole these treatments aren’t recommended for use on the NHS because there’s no conclusive proof that they work.
Some techniques you may want to explore include acupuncture and massage.
Learning to lift correctly is important to help prevent further episodes of back pain. Avoid heavy lifting if you can. Some tips to remember:
- Bend your knees when lifting and allow your spine to move as necessary, without twisting it.
- Try and split loads between both hands.
- Keep the weight close to your body.
Diet and nutrition
There are no special diets that have been shown either to help or prevent back pain. However, if you’re overweight you should consider changing your diet and doing some regular exercise to help you lose weight as this will reduce the strain on your back.
Read more about diet and nutrition.
Pain management programmes
These programmes may help you control your pain and teach you how to live with chronic pain. They’re usually outpatient sessions and involve learning about the physical and psychological factors that can contribute to pain and what you can do to overcome them.
Read more about pain and arthritis.