Self-Care for Low Back Pain

Woman walking outdoors.Most people have low back pain now and then. In many cases, it isn’t serious and self-care can help. Sometimes low back pain can be a sign of a bigger problem. Call your healthcare provider if your pain returns often or gets worse over time. For the long-term care of your back, get regular exercise, lose any excess weight and learn good posture.

Take a short rest

Lying down during the day may be helpful for short periods of time if severe pain increases with sitting or standing. Long-term bed rest could be damaging.

Reduce pain and swelling

Cold reduces swelling. Both cold and heat can reduce pain. Protect your skin by placing a towel between your body and the ice or heat source.

  • For the first few days, apply an ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes, several times a day. To make a cold pack, put ice cubes in a plastic bag that seals at the top.

  • After the first few days, try heat for 15 minutes at a time to ease pain. Never sleep on a heating pad.

  • Over-the-counter medicine can help control pain and swelling. Try aspirin or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine (NSAID) such as ibuprofen.


Exercise can help your back heal. It also helps your back get stronger and more flexible, preventing any reinjury. Ask your healthcare 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. Lift heavy items using your legs, not your back. Don’t try to lift more than you can handle.

  • When sitting, keep your lower back supported. Use a rolled-up towel as needed.

When to call your healthcare provider

Seek medical care right away if:

  • You can't stand or walk.

  • You have a temperature over 100.4°F (38.0°C)

  • 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, tingling, 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.