Back pain is very common and normally improves within a few weeks or months.
Pain in the lower back is particularly common, although it can be felt anywhere along the spine – from the neck down to the hips.
In most cases the pain isn’t caused by anything serious and will usually get better over time.
There are things you can do to help relieve it. But sometimes the pain can last a long time or keep coming back.
How to relieve back pain
The following tips may help reduce your backache and speed up your recovery:
- stay as active as possible and try to continue your daily activities – this is one of the most important things you can do, as resting for long periods is likely to make the pain worse
- try exercises and stretches for back pain; other activities such as walking, swimming, yoga and pilates may also be helpful
- take anti-inflammatory pain killers, such as ibuprofen – remember to check the medicine is safe for you to take first and ask a pharmacist if you’re not sure
- use hot or cold compression packs for short-term relief – you can buy these from your local pharmacy, or a hot water bottle and a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a cloth will work just as well
Although it can be difficult, it helps if you stay optimistic and recognise that your pain should get better, as people who manage to stay positive despite their pain tend to recover quicker.
Neck pain or a stiff neck is a common problem which usually gets better after a few days or weeks. It’s rarely a sign of anything serious.
You can often get a painful or stiff neck if you:
- sleep in an awkward position
- use a computer for a prolonged period of time
- strain a muscle because of bad posture
- stress or have anxiety, this can also sometimes cause tension in your neck muscles, leading to neck pain.
Managing neck pain at home
For most types of general neck pain, the advice is to carry on with your normal daily activities, keep active, and take painkillers to relieve the symptoms.
These steps may help you to manage your pain:
- take regular doses of paracetamol, ibuprofen, or a combination of the two, to control pain – ibuprofen gel can be rubbed on to your neck as an alternative to taking tablets (always follow the instructions that come with the medication)
- try holding a hot water bottle or heat pack to your neck – this can help reduce the pain and any muscle spasms, although some people find cold packs offer better relief
- avoid wearing a neck collar – there’s no evidence to suggest wearing a neck collar will help to heal your neck, and it’s generally better to keep your neck mobile
- avoid driving if you find it difficult to turn your head – this may prevent you being able to view traffic
- if your neck is stiff or twisted, try some neck exercises – gently tense your neck muscles as you tilt your head up and down and from side to side, and as you carefully twist your neck from left to right; these exercises will help strengthen your neck muscles and improve your range of movement
When to seek medical advice
You should see your GP if:
- the pain or stiffness doesn’t improve after a few weeks
- you can’t control the pain using ordinary painkillers
- you’re worried your pain could have a more serious cause
Your GP will examine you and ask some questions to help identify any underlying condition. They may also prescribe a stronger painkiller to take with your usual over-the-counter painkillers.
If you’ve had spinal pain or stiffness for a month or more, your GP may be able to refer you to a physiotherapist.
If your symptoms are particularly severe or don’t improve, your GP may consider prescribing more powerful medication or referring you to a pain specialist for further treatment.
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