Top tips for managing acute low back pain

Tips on how to manage acute low back pain from Physio Three Sixty, Hitchin


What is acute low back pain?

Acute pain refers to symptoms that have been present for up to six weeks.  Pain lasting longer than  six weeks refers to sub-acute pain and anything longer than three months is termed persistent or chronic pain. Acute low back pain is typically brought on through injury, repetitive strain or postural problems and can present as a focal point in the low back or which radiates into one or both buttocks or even into the thigh& hip area.  For some people their symptoms will be a mild level of discomfort and for others much more intense.  Sensations of being sharp, hot, burning, aching or dull are all common descriptors of low back pain.

How long will an episode last?

The prognosis for recovery from low back pain is good.  Fifty percent of episodes nearly completely resolve within two weeks, and 80% by six weeks (Manchikanti, 2000).  The duration and severity of a single episode cannot be predicted based on the onset, location of pain, or even the initial severity. The initial pain may resolve within several days, while moderate or mild symptoms may persist for a few weeks.

What can I do to help myself?

Movement it best.  When we are in pain our instinct can often be to rest or stop moving for a few days, but we have known for some time that resting can be counterproductive.  General activity and the right kind of exercise results in a quicker recover and better prognosis than doing nothing at all.  This will help with blood flow and nutrients flowing to the affected area, inhibiting inflammation and reducing muscular tension. Many individuals with low back pain find that they can perform their usual, but more controlled cardiovascular activities, such as walking, in spite of the pain and often feel better after the activity.

Should I take medication?

Over the counter medication such as paracetamol and Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be useful for managing low back pain.  If you are unsure about what to take you should seek advice from a pharmacist or a GP.  If over the counter analgesia does not provide any benefit it would be appropriate to make an appointment to see your GP who may prescribe an alternative medication for pain relief.

Top exercises for Acute LBP

As a general rule any movement is good, even if just walking for a few minutes at a time.  Range of movement exercises can be excellent for reducing muscle tension and relieving pain, and Arthritis Research UK provide an excellent guide on how these can be done by following the link below.  The key is to avoid excessive rest or staying in the same position for prolonged periods of time without moving.

What do I do if things don’t improve?

If you continue to struggle with pain despite taking the above steps it is worth seeking a professional opinion with a Chartered Physiotherapist.  By undergoing aa physical examination, a Physiotherapist will be able to determine if other treatments such as manual therapy or acupuncture will be useful, and as to which exercises are most appropriate to carry out.  You can visit your GP to enquire about getting referred or you can refer yourself directly to a clinic such as Physio Three Sixty in Hitchin.
Manchikanti, L., 2000. Epidemiology of low back pain. Pain physician, 3(2), pp.167-192.
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