Almost everyone will experience lower back pain at some point. In fact, it’s the most common cause of job-related disability and it’s a top reason for missed work. Luckily, most lower back pain only lasts a few days. This is known as acute back pain, and although it can be very painful, it’s usually not serious.

Common Causes

Muscle strain is one of the most common causes of acute lower back pain. Muscle strain can stem from activities such as lifting something heavy or moving suddenly.

How to Treat at Home

For simple back pain caused by overuse, try the following:

  • Apply heat; warm, wet washcloths or a warm bath may reduce muscle spasms.
  • Try a rub-on cream or ask your healthcare provider about over-the-counter pain medicines.
  • Take it easy, but continue your usual activities. Avoid bed rest.
  • Sleep on your side with a pillow between your knees.

If your back pain does not improve, or gets worse, notify your healthcare provider. See your healthcare provider right away if your back pain is the result of a fall or injury, or your back pain is accompanied by fever, trouble passing urine, numbness in your legs or muscle weakness.

Prevent the Pain

To keep your back healthy and avoid future lower back pain, try these tips:

  • Practice good posture when you sit, stand and walk.
  • Get regular, low-impact exercise like walking, swimming or riding a stationary bike and remember to stretch before you exercise.
  • Wear low-heeled shoes with good support.
  • Don't try to lift things that are too heavy for you. When you must lift, bend at your knees, not your waist.

Learn more about lower back pain using our Health Resource Center or the Choosing Wisely website.