Back pain - Treatment

Back pain will usually improve within a few weeks or months. There are many things you can try to help reduce your pain in the meantime.

You may need specialist treatments if simple measures do not work.

See your GP or a physiotherapist if your pain isn't improving after simple treatments.

Treatments you can try yourself

Stay active

One of the best things you can do is keep moving. Continue with your normal activities as much as possible.

People who remain active are likely to recover more quickly than those who choose bed rest.

Not resting might be hard at first, but your pain will start to improve. Think about taking painkillers if you cannot carry on as normal.

There's no need to wait until you're pain-free before returning to work.

Going back to work will help you return to a normal pattern of activity and may distract you from pain.

Exercises and stretches

Simple back exercises and stretches can help reduce back pain. You can do these at home as often as you need to.

Your GP may be able to tell you what exercises to try if you're not sure. You can also see a physiotherapist for advice.

Painkillers

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) tablets, such as ibuprofen, can help relieve back pain. You can buy most types without a prescription.

NSAIDs aren't suitable for everyone. Check that it is OK for you to take the medicine first. Talk to your pharmacist or GP if you're not sure.

If you cannot take NSAIDs, other medicines such as codeine may help. This is a stronger painkiller that you should only take for a few days. It can cause addiction if used for longer.

Your GP might give you muscle relaxants if you have painful spasms in your back.

Hot or cold packs

Some people find that heat helps ease the pain. You could try a hot bath or place a hot water bottle on the affected area.

An ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables placed on the area can also give you short-term relief. Do not put ice directly on your skin, as it can cause a cold burn. Wrap an ice pack or bag of frozen vegetables in a cloth first.

You can buy hot and cold packs at most pharmacies.

Stay positive

Try to relax. Muscle tension from worrying about your condition can make things worse.

It helps if you stay positive and understand that your pain should get better. People who manage to stay positive despite their pain often recover quicker.

Specialist treatments

Exercise classes

You might benefit from a group exercise programme. This involves classes led by a qualified instructor. They will show you a mix of exercises to strengthen muscles and improve your posture.

Manual therapy

Manual therapy is where a therapist uses their hands. They move, massage and apply careful force to the muscles, bones and joints in and around your spine.

It's usually done by chiropractors, osteopaths or physiotherapists.

Manual therapy should only be used with other measures such as exercise.

Psychological support

Your GP may suggest psychological therapy as well as exercise and manual therapy.

Therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help. It can change how you think about your condition and help you manage your pain better.

If you've been in pain for a long time, your GP may suggest a specialist treatment programme.

This may include:

  • group therapy
  • exercises
  • relaxation
  • education about pain
  • the psychology of pain

Surgery and procedures

Surgery for back pain is usually only recommended for a specific medical reason. For example, sciatica or a slipped (prolapsed) disc.

It is usually only considered when other treatments have not helped.

Radiofrequency denervation may be used if:

  • you've had back pain for a long time
  • your pain is moderate or severe
  • the pain comes from joints in your spine

This procedure involves inserting needles into the nerves of the affected joints. Radio waves go through the needles to heat the nerves. This stops them from sending pain signals.

You'll be awake while the treatment happens and local anaesthetic will numb your back. You won't need to stay in hospital overnight.

Complications after radiofrequency denervation can include bleeding, bruising, infection and accidental nerve damage. Discuss the risks with your surgeon before you agree to treatment.


Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

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