How to Manage and Prevent Low Back Pain

Self-care tips to limit your pain

Veterans performing a gentle yoga stretchMost people have lower back pain now and then; it is a common problem that is uncomfortable and sometimes downright painful. You can strain back muscles by lifting too much weight or just by moving the wrong way. Call your doctor if your pain gets worse over time, but in many cases, it isn't dangerous, and self-care can help. To support yourself and to prevent future back strains, try these suggestions:

Take a short rest

Rest your back for a day or two after a strain to begin healing. Try to use a firm mattress or the floor, and make sure your lower back is firmly supported with a small pillow or towel. Keep your knees slightly bent, with another pillow under them. Every few hours, get up and walk as much as you can.

Reduce pain and swelling

Ice reduces muscle pain and swelling. It helps most during the first 24 to 48 hours after an injury. Wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen peas in a dishcloth. (Never place ice directly on your skin.) Place the ice where your back hurts the most. Don't ice for more than 20 minutes at a time. You should use ice several times a day. After the first few days, try heat to ease the pain. Over-the- counter medications can help control pain and swelling. Try aspirin or an aspirin substitute, such as ibuprofen.


Exercise can help your back heal. It also helps your back get stronger and more flexible, as well as prevents any re-injury. Ask your health care provider about specific exercises for your back.

Use good posture to avoid reinjury

When moving, bend at the hips and knees. Don't bend at the waist or twist around. When lifting, keep the object close to your body. Don't try to lift more than you can handle. When sitting, keep your lower back supported. Use a rolled-up towel as needed.

Finally, call your health care provider if:

  • You're unable to stand or walk

  • You have a temperature over 101.0°F

  • You have frequent, painful, or bloody urination

  • You have severe abdominal pain

  • You have a sharp, stabbing pain

  • Your pain is constant

  • You have pain or numbness in your leg

  • You feel pain in a new area of your back

  • You notice that the pain isn't decreasing after more than a week

Read More

Self-Care for Low Back Pain (Veterans Health LIbrary)

Caring for Your Back Throughout the Day (Veterans Health LIbrary)

Updated February 26, 2020