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Pain in the back... treating acute lower back pain

This month we are going to look at something that I have recently suffered and to some extent still suffering with and that is treating acute lower back pain.

treating acute lower back pain - fleximed first aid training

The key word here is ACUTE meaning sudden onset, people that have chronic (ongoing back pain) usually have other medical issues and should consult a GP at the earliest possible opportunity.

Acute lower back pain is normally triggered by a physically traumatic event, usually lifting something too heavy with incorrect posture or manual handling skills.

This leads to a sudden sharp pain in the lower (lumber) area of the spine which is often only there for a second and you usually feel ok until a few hours later where your range of motion has become limited and you are in pain. At this point you usually mutter those wonderful words “I think I have done something to my back!”.


Do i need to see a GP?

Yes, you may have 'done something to your back' but do I need to see the GP, go to hospital etc? In most cases acute back pain can be treated at home with rest, pain relief and a few hot baths and stretches. In these instances you have usually STRAINED a back muscle, which will ache and spasm while it recovers but very rarely does it require medical intervention, UNLESS you can’t move or have electric shock like pains in your limbs or loss of sensation, in these cases please seek medical advice via 111.

There are two common types of lower back strain:

  • A muscle strain happens when the muscle is over-stretched or torn, resulting in damage to the muscle fibres (also called a pulled muscle).

  • A lumbar sprain happens when ligaments are stretched too far or torn. Ligaments are very tough, fibrous connecting tissues that connect bones together.

how to treat lower back pain - fleximed first aid training

For practical purposes, it doesn’t matter if it is a muscle strain or a ligament sprain that is causing the pain, since the treatment for both is the same.

When the muscles or ligaments in the low back are strained or torn, the area around the muscles will usually become inflamed. The inflammation leads to back spasm, and it is the back spasm that can cause both severe lower back pain and difficulty moving.

A common myth about back pain is that you need to rest and avoid activity for a long time. In fact, doctors do not recommend bed rest. If you have no sign of a serious cause for your back pain (such as loss of bowel or bladder control, weakness, weight loss, or fever), stay as active as possible.

Here are tips for how to handle back pain and activity:

  • Stop normal physical activity for only the first few days. This helps calm your symptoms and reduce swelling (inflammation) in the area of the pain.

  • Apply heat/ice to the painful area. Use ice for the first 48 to 72 hours to reduce swelling, and then use heat to help relax the muscle.

  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen. (ALWAYS read the instructions


  • Sleep in a curled-up, foetal position with a pillow between your legs. If you usually sleep on your back, place a pillow or rolled towel under your knees to relieve pressure.

  • Do not do activities that involve heavy lifting or twisting of your back for the first 6 weeks after the pain begins.

  • Do not exercise in the days right after the pain begins. After 2 to 3 weeks, slowly begin to exercise again.

To sum all this up, a simple misjudgement can result in a sprained back, lots of pain and can lead to weeks of discomfort.

Be sensible and apply good manual handling techniques and you should be ok

Finally if you are unable to move or have severe back pain at the time of injury then seek urgent medical advice or if the pain does not subside within a few days then seek medical advice. Until next time stay safe!

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