5 self-help tips for relieving lower back pain

Lesley Dobson / 20 May 2020

There are steps you yourself can take to help ease your back pain. Follow our five-point guide to managing your back pain.

A study carried out by Nuffield Health and Atomik Research found 36% of the 3,322 people questioned had lower back pain that affected their every-day lives.

Most of the time back pain gets better without serious medical treatment – often it can start to ease after roughly two weeks, but if your back pain is causing you concern, and isn’t getting better after about six weeks, it is probably time to see your GP.

Don’t just wait for things to get better on their own, there are steps you can take to help ease your back pain. Here’s our five-point guide to managing your back pain.

Read our guide to lower back pain

1. Keep moving to ease lower back pain

Exercise is one of the most important things you can do to help ease your back pain. This is because keeping active keeps your muscles in shape – including those in your back. Strong back and abdominal muscles will help your posture, and help reduce your back pain. Start gently, and work your way up to longer walks or more laps, so that you don’t make your back pain worse. The following exercises all help strengthen your muscles, make you fitter, and more flexible, and will help your balance and posture.

Once you’ve got into the habit of exercising, keep it up, or the improvement in strength and flexibility will disappear.

Exercise is good for your mental health as well as for your muscles, as it triggers your body to release endorphins. These chemicals can reduce the amount of pain you’re feeling, and make you feel happier and more positive.

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2. Stay positive to manage lower back pain

Feeling mentally good is important. “Research is starting to show how important psychological factors are in managing low back pain,” explains a spokesperson from Arthritis Research UK.

Studies have found that having negative thoughts about your back pain, or always thinking the worst (“I’ll have this for the rest of my life”), can slow down your recovery.

The talking treatment Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can be very helpful in dealing with both mental and physical health problems, including chronic pain. CBT courses can be just you and a therapist, group sessions, or through a computer programme or self-help book.

You can have CBT through the NHS. Ask your GP whether CBT is on offer at their surgery. If it isn’t there are other ways of accessing CBT through the NHS – through a programme called Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT), you can also look on the IAPT website, at https://www.england.nhs.uk/mental-health/adults/iapt/ or through your Community Mental Health Team (CMHT). Some NHS Trusts also have specialist therapy services. Your GP should be able to let you know if there is one in your area.

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3. Painkillers to help ease lower back pain

Common pain killers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help ease lower back pain in the short term. This may be enough to keep you moving, which will help to strengthen your back muscles and reduce your pain levels.

You must be careful not to take more than the maximum dose per day, and you must also check that they are safe to take alongside any other medication you’re taking. If in any doubt ask your doctor, or pharmacist.

Learn more about over-the-counter painkillers

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4. Hands-on help to help you beat lower back pain

If your back pain doesn’t start getting better after six weeks, you might need some expert help.

  • Physiotherapy involves exercise, the use of heat and cold, and manual techniques, including massage, to help ease pain and improve your blood circulation and your range of movement.
  • Osteopathy involves treating your muscles and joints, using stretching and massaging techniques. It is recommended as a treatment for back pain by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE)
  • Acupuncture involves fine needles being inserted into different points on the body by a trained practitioner. It is used for a range of different health problems, including anxiety, infertility and headaches, as well as lower back pain. NICE recommends it as a treatment for chronic lower back pain, and chronic tension headaches and migraines.

5. Screening for long-lasting lower back pain

If your back pain has been going on for a while, or keeps recurring, ask your GP or back specialist if they use the STarT Back Screening Tool for low back pain. This questionnaire gives GPs the information they need to classify their patients into different groups, according to the level of treatment they need. It means that those people who are more likely to have long-term back pain and the psychological problems that can come with this, have the appropriate treatment targeted at their risk level.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.