If you have lower back pain, you’re far from alone. About 80 percent of adults in the United States deal with lower back pain at some point in their life, estimates the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
Postural stress is the most common cause of lower back pain. Generally, when you’re standing and walking, the increased pressure on your spine can make the lower back muscles tighten and spasm, leading to pain.
Some specific causes of lower back pain include:
- sprains from stretched ligaments
- strains from too much force put on a muscle
- spinal stenosis, the pressure on nerves caused by the narrowing of spaces in
- degenerative disc disease, when discs between vertebrae break down, decreasing the space between them and irritating surrounding nerves
There are a number of at-home options to treat pain in your lower back:
- Relax. Sometimes just sitting down will relieve enough of the pressure from your lower back to reduce the pain significantly.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These over-the-counter pain relievers include ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve). You can purchase NSAIDs here.
- Exercise and stretching. Although exercise is often good for addressing lower back pain, consult with a professional. Some exercises can make the pain worse. For example, avoid toe touches and situps, but try hamstring stretches. Generally getting into better physical health will help reduce lower back pain when standing and doing other everyday activities.
- Stand and sit up straight. Your posture is important for proper weight distribution. Standing and sitting up straight will help.
- Get supportive shoes and orthotics. Get shoes or shoe inserts that help keep your feet in a neutral, supported position.
- Mattress support. Find a mattress that gives you better support than your current one.
- Use heat and ice. As soon as the pain starts, put an ice pack on your lower back for 20 minutes several times a day. After 48 hours, alternate using ice and heat.
- Avoid heavy lifting. Avoid lifting heavy objects. If you must, keep your back straight and bend your legs so the leg muscles do the majority of the work.
- Lose weight. If you’re overweight, getting to a healthy weight will improve strain on your back.
Some alternative therapies for lower back pain include:
- Massage. General relaxation massages and structural massage targeted to areas that might be causing your back pain might help.
- Acupuncture. Acupuncture needles may reduce inflammation and alter the way nerves react to alleviate lower back pain.
If at-home remedies and lifestyle changes don’t improve your lower back pain, your doctor can prescribe medication to help you manage it. Some of the medications your doctor might prescribe include:
- muscle relaxants to relieve spasms
- topicals to be used directly on the area in pain
- cortisone injections to reduce inflammation
Your doctor might also suggest physical therapy. A physical therapist can teach you specific exercises and stretches to strengthen your back and find pain relief. They might also use other techniques as well, such as:
- joint mobilization
- posture education
- modalities like electrical stimulation and ultrasound
Back pain commonly goes away on its own, but sometimes medical help is needed. Call your doctor if your pain lasts longer than a few days and is accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
- deep constant pain
- prolonged morning stiffness
- weak legs
- pain that’s unaffected by activity or position
- rigid spine
- numb groin
- fever or chills
If the pain is a result of physical trauma, such as a car accident, visit your doctor.
If you have occasional back pain when you stand, it’s likely due to postural stress. Chances are it’ll go away in a few days, either on its own or with home remedies.
If the pain continues, gets worse, or is accompanied by other symptoms, it’s time for you to see your doctor.