Acute lower back pain is an episode of lower back pain for less than six weeks.
The lower back bears most of your weight. Because of this, it is easily injured when you lift, reach, or twist. The good news is that most low back pain goes away within several weeks with some basic self-care. If your pain is very bad or lasts more than a couple of weeks, then contact your GP.
Who gets acute low back pain?
Back pain is very common in adults. Some people are more at risk than others. A risk factor is anything that means you are more likely to have acute low back pain.
Risk factors that you cannot change
- Being middle-aged or older
- Being male
- Having a family history of back pain
- Having had a previous back injury
- Having had compression fractures of the spine
Risk factors that you can change
- Lack of regular exercise
- Job or other activities that require long periods of sitting, lifting heavy objects, bending or twisting, repetitive motions, or constant vibration
- Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have disc injuries.
- Excess body weight, especially around the waist. This may put strain on your back.
- Poor posture. Once your back has been strained or injured, bad posture can make your pain worse.
- Chronic coughing, which puts lots of stress on your spine
- Wearing high-heeled shoes
What causes acute low back pain?
Back injuries are the most common cause of acute low back pain. Injuries often happen when you use your back muscles for something they are not used to, such as lifting a heavy object or doing yard work. You can also hurt your back by tripping, falling a short distance, or twisting your back too far.
Moving, lifting, standing, sitting, or sleeping in an awkward way can strain your back. Often you do not notice the pain until later.
What are the symptoms?
A back sprain or strain may cause:
- Muscle spasms, cramping, and stiffness.
- Pain that is mostly in your back and buttocks.
- Pain that is at its worst the first 48 to 72 hours, followed by days or weeks of less severe pain.
- Exacerbation during standing and twisting motions.
- Possible swelling in and around the musculature.
- Decreased range of motion.
- Possible lateral deviation in the spine with a severe spasm.
How can you care for yourself?
Most low back pain will get better if you take these steps:
- Try using a heating pad on a low or medium setting for 15 to 20 minutes every 2 to 3 hours. Or you can buy single-use heat wraps that last up to 8 hours. You can also try an ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes every 2 to 3 hours.
- Take over-the-counter pain medicine if needed. For example Ibuprofen and Paracetamol will prevent you developing abnormal positions which may hinder your recovery.
- For the first day or two, rest in a comfortable position. Try lying on your side with a pillow between your knees. Or lie on your back on the floor with a pillow under your knees.
- As soon as you can, get back to your normal activities. Movement helps your muscles stay strong. Staying in bed for more than 1 or 2 days can actually make your problem worse.
Once the initial pain starts to ease a little, you need to increase your movement with gentle exercise. These will be given to you by your physiotherapist and are best done little and often throughout the day. Eventually these exercises need to be progressed to become more challenging and most people will benefit from starting a regular general exercise routine such as running, swimming or cycling.
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