Health libraryBack to health library
Nonsurgical treatments for back pain
Back pain is one of the most common reasons people see a doctor or miss work.
Whether your back pain is new or has lingered for a while, nonsurgical treatments can often bring you relief.
The first step is to talk with your doctor about treatment. The right approach will depend on factors like the cause of your back pain. Scroll on to learn about some nonsurgical options your doctor might recommend.
PHYSICAL ACTIVITY AND STRETCHING
When your back hurts, bed rest might seem like a good way to heal. But your back pain can get better sooner if you stay active. You shouldn't do vigorous exercise when your back is sore. But it's generally OK to keep up your daily activities. Your doctor may also give you gentle stretches and strengthening exercises to try.
Both nonprescription and prescription drugs can help relieve back pain. Some options your doctor may recommend include acetaminophen, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) such as aspirin or ibuprofen, and muscle relaxers.
HEAT AND COLD
Applying ice packs to your sore back may help with pain. Hot packs may help boost blood flow to your back tissues to help you heal.
Physical therapists are movement specialists. They may teach you exercises to strengthen and stretch the support muscles around your spine. You might also learn to protect your back from further pain with good posture and lifting techniques.
Braces can help some people feel more comfortable and stable. One commonly used type of brace is similar to a corset that wraps around the back and stomach.
In this therapy, practitioners insert slender needles into specific points on the body to stimulate them. This may release the body's natural pain relievers, such as endorphins and serotonin. According to the National Institutes of Health, acupuncture is moderately effective for chronic low-back pain.
Doctors can inject steroid medicines into the spine. The shots may reduce inflammation, which can help to relieve pain for a period of time.
Do you need surgery?
Surgery isn't for everyone, but it does help some people with their back pain, especially when nonsurgical treatments haven't helped. This decision tool can help you figure out if surgery might help you.
Sources: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; American Association of Neurological Surgeons; American Physical Therapy Association;National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
- American Association of Neurological Surgeons. "Low Back Pain." https://www.aans.org/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Low-Back-Pain.
- American Physical Therapy Association. "Physical Therapy Guide to Low Back Pain. https://www.choosept.com/guide/physical-therapy-guide-low-back-pain.
- National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. "Back Pain Basics." https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/back-pain/basics/diagnosis-treatment-and-steps-to-take.
- National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. "Low Back Pain Fact Sheet." https://www.ninds.nih.gov/low-back-pain-fact-sheet.
- OrthoInfo. "Low Back Pain." https://orthoinfo.aaos.org/en/diseases--conditions/low-back-pain.