First Aid for Back Pain

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Acute and chronic back pain is a major public health problem. Up to 90% of all adults suffer from a low back pain episode at least once in their life.1 The pain may originate from the muscles, ligaments, nerves, bones, joints or other structures in the spine. Acute low back pain with or without sciatica is usually self-limited and has no serious underlying causes.

In general, back pain can be felt constantly or intermittently, stay in one place or radiate to other areas. It may be a dull ache in nature or a sharp, piercing or burning sensation. Many patients with self-limited episodes of acute back pain do not seek medical care. Among those who do seek medical care, the improvement in the pain, disability and return to work occur rapidly in the first few weeks.2 Nevertheless, pain and disability are typically ongoing and recurrences are fairly common.

For most patients, reassurance and pain medications are sufficient modalities of treatment. A more thorough evaluation is required in patients associated with an increased risk of cauda equina syndrome (a serious condition caused by compression of the nerves in the lower portion of the spinal canal), cancer, infection or fracture.

First Aid for Back Pain

The following self-help treatments may help to relieve back pain:

  • Lie down in a comfortable position.
  • An ice massage can help alleviate pain in the shoulders, neck and back. The area should be massaged with the ice in a circular motion for 5–7 min.
  • If the ice massage doesn’t work, try applying gentle warmth with a hot water bottle.
  • Try oral pain killer medications such as muscle relaxants, nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or paracetamol (acetaminophen).
  • If the back pain is associated with sudden loss of bladder or bowel control, seek immediate medical attention.

Do’s and Don’ts

  • When applying the ice pack or hot water bottle, don’t put them directly on the skin.
  • Avoid sleeping on soft mattress.
  • Avoid strenuous exercise. No specific back exercises can improve pain or increase functional ability in people with acute back pain. Nevertheless, exercise may be useful for people with chronic back pain to help them return to normal activities and work.3
  • Don’t stretch or do any activities that put additional strain on the back.
  • Avoid lifting any heavy objects.
  • Avoid long periods of rest. Start walking around as soon as the pain becomes tolerable.


  • Maintain good posture.  
  • Avoid overstretching body.  
  • Reduce stress/strain.  
  • Sit straight with lower back support.
  • Use comfortable low-heeled shoes.  
  • Avoid sitting for prolonged period. Take breaks during work.
  • Lose weight (in overweight cases).


1.Gautschi OR, Cadosch D, Hildebrandt G. Acute low back pain--assessment and management. Schweiz Rundsch Med Prax. 2008; 97(2): 58–68.

2.Pengel LH, Herbert RD, Maher CG, et al. Acute low back pain: Systematic review of its prognosis. BMJ. 2003; 327(7410): 323.

3.Hayden JA, van Tulder MW, Malmivaara A, et al. Exercise therapy for treatment of non-specific low back pain. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005; (3): CD000335.

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Written by: healthplus24 team
Date last updated: May 02, 2015

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