ACUTE LOW BACK PAIN. New guidelines.

Patients with acute low back pain should stay as active as possible and continue normal daily activities, according to new guidelines from the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.

It is not always clear what causes acute back pain. Most cases result from injuries to muscles, ligaments, bones and discs in the back. However, serious causes are rare and 90% of cases settle within 2 weeks.

How to get better sooner

The guidelines advise that you: 

  • Stay active. The old days of bed rest for back pain are gone. Limit rest in bed to 2 days as it tends to cause the back to tighten up. Light activity will not cause further injury. Avoid sitting or staying in the same position for too long.
  • Exercise regularly. Start aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming, cycling) at a low rate and try to gradually increase, aiming for at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Pain relief. If required, paracetamol is safe and effective. Your doctor may also prescribe anti-inflammatory tablets. 
  • Stretching. Back loosening exercises can relieve muscle spasm and pain. Try a warm shower or hot pack before exercise.
  • Back exercises. If you get repeated episodes of back pain, back strengthening exercises may be helpful.
  • Work. Return to work as early as possible, even if there is still some pain.

Are X-rays needed?

X-rays are usually not required initially, unless you have had an impact injury which may have caused a bone fracture. X-rays for low back pain are unreliable and are rarely helpful in identifying the cause of pain. Your doctor may advise more sophisticated and accurate tests in special circumstances.

Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.

Source: Spring 2003 Edition | Page 2

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