Treating back pain

Treatment usually depends on the nature and severity of the pain. Back pain is usually described as either acute or chronic; acute pain comes on all of a sudden and lasts only a short period of time, while chronic pain usually develops slowly and may last a long time (it can also contribute to more serious back problems).

Treating acute back pain:

Treatment for acute back pain usually involves medication; most people are advised to take painkilling medication including paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication (usually, this refers to ibuprofen). If pain is more severe, your doctor may recommend a stronger painkiller, such as codeine. Severe acute pain may also be treated using a muscle relaxant, such as diazepam. Patients with acute back pain will usually also be advised to undertake regular physical exercise; at first, this should be gentle exercise such as walking and swimming. Using hot and cold compression packs may also help to ease pain; ice packs can be used to reduce swelling (the ice pack should be wrapped in a cloth or towel to prevent damaging the skin). 

Treating chronic back pain:

Patients with chronic pain will usually be prescribed medication to control pain (usually paracetamol and ibuprofen), as well as being advised to make simple changes to their lifestyle, which will help to improve symptoms. Doctors may refer the patient for physiotherapy; this will help to gradually strengthen muscles and connective tissues, increase flexibility in the back and improve posture. Patients will also be advised to exercise regularly.

If self-help treatments and medication do not work then doctors may recommend alternative treatments, including surgery and complementary therapies, including osteopathy, chiropractic and acupuncture. Surgery is usually only used when the source of the pain has been identified, the symptoms are getting worse and other treatments have failed in the past. Common surgical procedures for back problems include:

  • Fusion surgery: this can be used when a disc has slipped. Fusion surgery is used to fuse the disc back into place; this procedure involves using metal rods to support the disc once it has been put back into place
  • Discectomy: this procedure involves removing the portion of the disc that is applying pressure to the spinal cord or nerve roots
  • Injections: there are a number of different injections that surgeons may use to control pain.

Guide to Back pain

Back pain

What are the symptoms of back pain?

Causes of severe back pain

What causes back pain?

Preventing back pain

Treating back pain