Conservative Medical Care

Usually the first approach to treating back pain involves using pain relievers, reducing any swelling, restoring proper movement and strength and preventing a return of the pain.

Conservative care that can be done at home includes:

  • Applying ice and heat. This can reduce the pain and swelling for some people, improving their ability to move. As soon as possible after an injury, you should apply a cold compress (a bag of ice or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a towel) to the painful area several times a day for up to 20 minutes each time. After two to three days, you should begin to apply heat to the area using a heating lamp or hot pad for brief periods to relax the muscles and increase the blood flow. Warm baths may also help relax muscles. (Avoid falling asleep with the heating pad in place. This can cause burns.)
  • Bed rest. Do this for one to two days at most. You should resume activity as soon as possible to avoid loss of muscle strength or blood clots in the legs. At night or when you are resting, you should lie on one side with a pillow between the knees. Another option is to lie on the back with a pillow under your knees.
  • Exercise. This may be the best way to recover from back pain because it strengthens the back and stomach muscles. This is particularly important if you have irregularities in your spine. Consult your doctor or a physical therapist for a list of gentle exercises to keep your muscles moving without making your condition worse. Examples of good exercises for the back include stretching, swimming, walking or yoga. Most mild discomfort that you may feel when you begin to exercise should disappear as your muscles warm up. If the pain is more than mild and lasts for 15 minutes or more during exercise, you should stop exercising and speak to your doctor before doing more exercise.