Healing will occur most quickly if you can continue your usual activities in a gentle manner while avoiding what may have caused the pain in the first place. Avoid long periods of bed rest, which can worsen your pain and make you weaker.
If your back pain hasn't improved noticeably after 72 hours of self-care, see a doctor.
With proper care of a strain or sprain, you should notice steady improvement within the first 2 weeks. Most back pain is much better in 6 weeks. Sprained ligaments or severe muscle strains may take up to 12 weeks to heal. Once you have back pain, you're more prone to experience repeated painful episodes. Follow these home care steps:
- Use cold packs initially to relieve pain. Wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a piece of cloth. Hold it on the sore area for 15 minutes four times a day. To avoid frostbite, never place ice directly on your skin.
- You may be most comfortable lying with your back on the floor, hips and knees bent and legs elevated. Get plenty of rest, but avoid prolonged bed rest-more than a day or two may slow recovery. Moderate movement keeps your muscles strong and flexible. Avoid the activity that caused the sprain or strain. Avoid heavy lifting, pushing or pulling, repetitive bending and twisting.
- After 48 hours, you may use heat to relax sore or knotted muscles. Use a warm bath, warm packs, a heating pad or a heat lamp. Be careful not to burn your skin with extreme heat. But if you find that cold provides more relief than heat, you can continue using cold, or try a combination of the two methods.
- Gradually begin gentle stretching exercises. Avoid jerking, bouncing or any movements that increase pain or require straining.
- Use over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
- Massage or physical therapy (including some forms of manipulation or adjustment) may be helpful, especially for muscle spasms, but avoid placing any pressure directly on your spine.
- If you must stand or sit much of the day, you may consider using a support brace or corset. Worn properly, they may relieve your pain and provide warmth, comfort and support. However, relying on this type of support for a long time, rather than using your muscles, may actually weaken your muscles.