It’s a common condition that can often be improved at home

Almost two in every three people experience lower back pain at some point during their lives. It’s a condition that isn’t usually serious and can be managed at home or with some help from a physiotherapist or doctor. It usually improves within a few weeks, but it can sometimes last longer or keep returning.

We’ll tell you more about the causes for lower back pain, how to help ease your pain and the recommended treatment options available.

What is lower back pain?

Lower back pain is classed as pain felt from the bottom of your ribs to the top of your legs.

Pain can come from the many structures that make up your back, including your bones, joints, muscles, ligaments, nerves and tendons.

Lower back pain can sometimes make it hard for you to move, and this will affect some people’s quality of life or their mental wellbeing. This is because it can limit work activities or being able to spend time with family and friends.

Symptoms of lower back pain

These can range from person to person. Some people may find that their lower back pain comes on suddenly, perhaps after lifting something heavy or your movement has caused the pain to activate. However, others may find the pain comes on gradually over time or for no clear reason.

Lower back pain can feel like a dull pain, or it can also feel like more of a tearing or burning pain. This pain can range from mild (where you’re still able to continue with your daily activities) to severe (where it’s hard to move or get out of bed).

Causes of lower back pain

There are many reasons you can experience lower back pain and it isn’t always obvious what’s causing it. A common example is something like a pulled muscle or a strain, or it could be due to a medical condition like a slipped disc or a trapped nerve (sciatica).

It may also be due to a chronic condition such as ankylosing spondylitis (a long-term condition in which the spine and other areas become inflamed) or fibromyalgia (a condition that causes pain all over the body).  Some women may find they experience lower back pain during their period, too.

There are also lifestyle factors which are causes for lower back pain. You could have pulled a muscle or picked up an injury during exercise or caused a strain due to carrying a heavy bag. Lower back pain could also be caused by bad posture while you’re working from home or from your sleeping position.

Very rarely, lower back pain can be a sign of a more serious problem such as a broken bone, infection or an underlying health condition.

How to ease lower back pain

Lower back pain will often get better on its own within a few weeks, but you can do some things to help speed up your recovery. These include:

• Continuing to stay active

• Continuing with your daily activities

• If suitable for you, taking anti-inflammatory medicine like ibuprofen (paracetamol on its own is not recommended for back pain, but you can use it alongside another pain reliever. Always read the label).

• Using an icepack (or a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a tea towel) to help reduce pain and swelling

• Using a heat pack (or hot water bottle) to relieve joint stiffness or muscle spasms

• Trying a back brace

• Trying some at home exercises and stretches

• Getting a good night’s sleep

• Adjusting the height of your chair when working at a desk

• Using a muscle rub or personal massager

While you might find it challenging to continue your daily activities, try to avoid staying in bed for long periods of time.

Treatment & prevention for lower back pain

At home treatments

Exercises & stretches to help strengthen the back

There are some exercises which can help stretch your back muscles and help reduce any stiffness and discomfort.

If you have any issues with mobility, have a medical condition or haven’t exercised in some time, speak to your GP before trying any new exercises or stretches. If the pain gets worse after trying them, stop what you’re doing and see your GP for advice.

Stay active

Staying active with gentle exercises like walking, swimming, yoga and pilates can also help ease back pain, and can help to prevent the pain from returning.

Improve your posture

If you work at a desk, make sure that your chair, desk and computer screen are set up correctly.

Your chair should support your lower back and you should have both feet on the floor – you can use a foot rest if you need to. Your screen should be at eye level with your keyboard straight in front of you. Find out more about desk posture with our article on posture and how to improve it when working from home.

Taking care when lifting heavy items

To help prevent lower back pain from returning, make sure you don’t lift or carry more weight than you can manage and ensure you’re using the right technique – slightly bending your back, knees and hips when lifting, rather than stooping.

Professional help

Medication & surgery

If over-the-counter pain relief isn’t helping your lower back pain, your GP may be able to offer you another medicine to help with the pain. They may also offer you a short course of a muscle relaxant.

Your GP may also recommend a procedure to help with lower back pain relief, but this tends to be for long-term lower back pain. For example, some people benefit from a procedure that seals off some of the nerves in your back to prevent them sending pain signals.

If your pain is caused by a medical condition like a slipped disc and other treatments have not helped the pain, surgery could be an option your GP recommends.

Physical therapy

If you see no improvement in your back pain after two to three weeks or the pain is getting worse, you can seek help from your GP or a physiotherapist. You may be able to self-refer to a physiotherapist on the NHS, or your GP may need to give you a referral. You can also choose to pay for a private physiotherapist.

A physiotherapist can help in lots of ways with lower back pain, including giving you exercises to follow that will improve your movement, muscle strength, posture and flexibility. They will also be able to provide more information on pain management or provide services such as massage or spine manipulation.


Chiropractors treat disorders that affect your bones, muscles and joints, and often offer a manual therapy in which they will used skilled hand movements to apply force to your joints and soft tissues – this is known as manipulation.

They can offer treatment both short-term and long-term. You can book a private appointment with a chiropractor yourself or ask your GP for a referral.


Some people have found acupuncture to be a useful treatment for managing lower back pain. Acupuncture is a treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine where fine needles are inserted into certain part of the body. These needles help stimulate sensory nerves under the skin and in the muscles.

Acupuncture is recommended as a treatment for chronic (long-term) pain but can also be used to treat other symptoms like joint and muscle pain. While it’s sometimes available on the NHS, most acupuncture patients pay for private treatment.

When to see your GP

You should see your doctor if:

• Your back pain doesn’t improve after treating it at home for a few weeks

• The pain is stopping you from doing your day-to-day activities

• The pain is severe or getting worse over time

• You’re worried about the pain or you’re struggling to cope

Ask for an urgent GP appointment or call NHS 111 if you have back pain and:

• A high temperature

• You’re losing weight without trying to

• There’s a lump or swelling or your back has changed shape

• The pain doesn’t improve after resting or is worse at night

• The pain is made worse when sneezing, coughing or pooing

• The pain is coming from between your shoulders rather than your lower back

Go to A&E or call 999 if you have back pain and:

• Pain, tingling, weakness or numbness in both legs

• Numbness or tingling around your genitals or buttocks

• Difficulty peeing

• Loss of bladder or bowel control (peeing or pooing without meaning to)

• Chest pain

• It started after a serious accident, such as a car accident

Try our at-home techniques for helping your lower back pain, but remember to see a GP if your pain is still there after two to three weeks, or you feel it is getting worse.